PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - Floodwaters released by a recently opened Chinese hydroelectric dam in Cambodia has forced hundreds of families from five villages to abandon their homes in recent weeks, the campaign group International Rivers said on Friday (Feb 2).
The villagers in the northern province of Stung Treng have moved to designated project resettlement sites, the group said in a statement that estimated at least 5,000 people would be displaced.
In Srekor village, only 10 families relocated to a resettlement village, while 63 families stayed behind, moving to forested higher ground from where they have witnessed the floodwaters steadily rise since December to reach the roofs of their homes.
"The thriving community of Srekor has become a silent waterworld," International Rivers said, noting that the village's farms, temple, ancestral graves and fishing grounds had been destroyed.
The 400MW Lower Sesan 2 Dam, a joint venture between China's Hydrolancang International Energy Company and Cambodia's Royal Group, finally began operation in November.
Approximately 75m high and 8km long, the dam has taken years to build and is part of China's hydropower ambitions in the Mekong region and is aimed at generating electricity for Cambodia.
Representatives of the joint consortium could not be reached on Friday for comment.
Environmental rights groups have repeatedly warned that the project would have a costly impact on the Mekong River's fisheries and biodiversity.
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has labelled those who have raised concerns about the project "radical", saying that Cambodia needs to keep up with its rising energy demand.
International Rivers said floodwater levels had risen up to 7m since the dam began operation.
Villagers in Srekor said the released floodwaters have wrought destruction.
"Vegetation such as coconuts, mango, jackfruit and pineapple trees are all gone," villager Sarun Sokhom, 61, told Reuters, adding that approximately 54 homes were submerged.
Another villager Sut Thoeun, 41, said the water began to rise quickly during the rainy season in December 2017.
Both villagers said that the authorities had not provided help to people who had chosen to stay behind.
Stung Treng provincial authority spokesman Men Kong said the floods were expected and that villagers could still approach the authorities about resettlement and compensation.