Clean water shortage at Sesan

One of the four ponds used by Kbal Romeas villagers to collect their daily water in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied
One of the four ponds used by Kbal Romeas villagers to collect their daily water in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied

Even as floodwaters pour into their villages and encroach upon their resettlement sites, villagers displaced by the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam in Stung Treng province say they are now facing shortages of potable water.

Community representative Lat Vibol said the 252 villagers from the Kbal Romeas indigenous community, which refused to relocate to government resettlement sites from their land in the flood zone of the Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co Ltd project – partly owned by tycoon Kith Meng – are running out of drinking water after two of the four natural ponds in their informal resettlement area dried up last month.

“We are worrying about the water shortage because the last two ponds are almost dried out,” Vibol said. “It is available for only one more week.”

According to Vibol, villagers got their water from the Srepok River before the dam closed, but that water source – along with their village – has been submerged by floodwaters from the dam since October. The villagers do not dare consume the floodwaters, Vibol said.

“The water is stagnant and not clear,” he said. “In some places, it smells bad. It does not flow naturally anymore. The grass, plants and animals died and decayed in the water.”

In addition to displacing thousands of indigenous villagers, environmental experts have raised alarm over the project’s detrimental impact on the Mekong River’s annual flood cycle and fish migration patterns.

Another informal settlement of more than 60 people from neighbouring Srekor village is also starting to run out of water, according to community representative Fut Kheoun.

About 20 percent of people on the unofficial settlement site live close to a water source, Kheoun said, but the rest have to transport water from about 7 kilometres away, or spend between $150 and $250 to dig new wells.

Villagers at the formal resettlement site are spending 25,000 riel (about $6.25) per 3,000 litres of clean drinking water from a local supplier, as the water provided by authorities and the company is only safe for bathing, according to former Srekor Commune Chief Siek Mekong.

Stung Treng Provincial Hall spokesman Men Kong said provincial authorities met last week to discuss water shortages and other issues faced by the displaced communities.

Kong said a team would begin investigating the water supply at both formal and informal resettlement sites in the next few days, and would again offer compensation to those who resettled on their own.

The provincial government previously offered all villagers living in what is now the dam’s reservoir a compensation package of $6,000 per family or 5 hectares of land, including a new home.