But flicking the switch comes at a price as critics say the controversial deals made with mostly Chinese companies to build the dams will create further hardship for Cambodia’s poor and ruin the environment.
Government officials say six of the dams will be funded by Chinese companies, but the US-based International Rivers Network warned in a January report that these Chinese investments could threaten some of Cambodia’s most precious eco-systems.
Qian Hai, third secretary of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, denied his country’s companies would damage the environment. “We just help Cambodia. All these projects are approved by the parliament and the government,” he said.
Among its objections to Cambodia’s dams, the International Rivers Network claims that Chinese companies and Cambodian officials ignore the ecological and social impact of the dams.
In 2005, the Cambodian Government approved its first major hydropower project – the 110 meter high Kamchay Dam. The contract to build and operate the project was given to Sinohydro Corporation, China’s largest dam builder. This dam will flood 2,000 hectares of Bokor National Park, home to a number of endangered species and an important resource to local communities. High-level Cambodian and Chinese government officials pushed forward the Kamchay Dam’s development in closed-door negotiations.
In 2007, a second major dam was approved and a further seven are known to be under study by Chinese and Vietnamese companies. Of particular concern is the proposed Sambor hydropower project, located on the Mekong mainstream in Kratie province. If approved, it would have a massive impact on the Mekong River’s fisheries and those communities dependent upon them for income and subsistence, as well as on endangered species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin. . .
The Asia Times Online also writes on the recent history of Cambodia’s decision to construct dams, and how Chinese companies became involved.
Like neighboring Laos in the 1990s, foreign donors, electricity-hungry neighboring nations such as Thailand and Vietnam and big business interests in China are all keen to transform Cambodia into a major hydropower generator. Previous plans for developing Cambodia’s hydropower potential were put on hold due to political instability and the economic chaos that followed the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. . . .
China’s and Cambodia’s political and economic ties have grown enormously over the past decade. China is the nation’s single largest investor, and Chinese state companies, often financed by state-owned financial institutions such as the Chinese Export-Import Bank, are the main players in hydropower dam development.