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Lower Season II Dam will displace ethnic minorities in Stung Treng, Cambodia


While described by proponents as a merely “tributary” dam, the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 (LS2) dam in Stung Treng province is causing immense fears of livelihood and ecosystem destruction [1]. Located at the Sesan and Srepok River, just 25km before they join the Mekong River, the L2S, with a planned capacity of 400MW and a reservoir size of around 34,000ha, is in fact among the largest dam projects in Cambodia [1].

First feasibility studies were conducted in 1999 but the proposal was rejected as being financially unattractive, carrying large social and environmental costs [1]. However, new Vietnamese and Chinese investors expressed their interest and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on June 15, 2006 to go ahead with Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and planning of the 977$ million dollar investment [1]. Although the EIA did not meet international standards, the LS2 was approved for construction in 2012 [2]. Forest clearing started in 2013 and construction work in 2014, accompanied by a growing number of access ways and illegal logging outside the concession area [2]. The dam is planned to be operative in 2017 [1].

Impacts on people and the environment will be devastating, but no proper consultation of affected people was held prior to the construction [1;3]. Upstream the dam, around 5000 people from 7 villages, comprised by Prov, Phnong and Lao ethnic minorities [4], will need to be relocated to make place for the reservoir [2] and an estimated 78,000 people will lose access to important migratory fish stocks [3]. Resettlement land for the dispossessed was reported to overlap with protected areas and concessions land of other companies [3]. Downstream, at least 22,000 people will be negatively affected by bad water quality and changing hydrology [3] and fish stock is expected to drop by almost 10% basinwide, while around 50 species will be endangered [5]. Socio-ecological impacts in fact are expected to affect upstream Laos and downstream Vietnam, turning it into a transboundary issue [2]. In summary, the dam will cause immense destruction of livelihoods, deforestation, habitat loss and large-scale ecological change [1].

Since years, the affected communities voice their preoccupations. They started protests marches, submitted formal concerns, and called on the spirits to stop the project [6]. Compensations, generally inappropriate, were refused [7]. Due to the transboundary nature of the project, international donors (Australia, Japan, Finland and USA) urged Cambodia to submit the project for prior consultation to the Mekong River Commission, which however has not been done [2]. Some NGOs submitted formal complaints regarding concerns of human rights abuse [8]; while others request a new EIA [9]. However, it seems that the interests of investors and urban elites are above those of affected communities.

Currently, it looks like that the project will go on, in spite of its devastating impacts.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lower Season II Dam will displace ethnic minorities in Stung Treng, Cambodia
State or province:Stung Treng Province
Location of conflict:Sesan district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The dam will have a reservoir size of 33,560ha, a length of 6km, and a height of 75m [3]

Expected capacity amounts to 400 MW during rainy season. According to the EIA, in dry season when energy is most demanded, the capacity will drop to 100MW [3]

Investment size is reported to amount up to 977$ million dollar investment [1].30% of the capital is held by the companies, and 70% of undisclosed bank loan, but likely from China [3]

The dam is operated by Hydropower Lower Sesan 2 CO. Ltd, a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group, Chinas Hydrolancang International Energy Co, which is subsidiary of Chinese state owned Huaneng Group [1], and EVN International Joint Stock Company, subsidiary of Electricity of Vietnam [2]

The LS2 dam is a BOT project (build-operate-transfer), in which ownership is transferred to the Cambodian Government after 45 years of operation [3]

EIA consultancy was conducted by Key Consultants Cambodia (KCC), and Power Engineering Consulting Joint-Stock Company (Vietnam). Forest clearance was concessioned to Ang & Associates Lawyer Ltd. (Cambodia), owned by Cambodia’s tycoon Kith Meng and his Royal Group Kith Meng [2]

Produced electricity will be sold to Electricite du Cambodge (EDC) or exported to Vietnam [3]

Project area:33,560
Level of Investment:977,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:5000 people evicted; 78,000 (upstream) and 22,000 (downstream) affected by changing hydrology and declining fish stock
Start of the conflict:15/06/2007
Company names or state enterprises:Hydropower Lower Sesan 2 Co. Ltd from Cambodia - hyrdoelectric dams
Royal Group Cambodia (RGC) from Cambodia - telecommunication, media, banking, insurance, resorts, education, property, trading, agriculture, dams
China Hydrolancang International Energy Co from China - hydroelectric dams
China Huaneng Group (CHNG) from China - electricity
EVN International Joint Stock Company (EVN) from Vietnam - construction, hydropower, project management
Electricity of Vietnam from Vietnam
Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) from Cambodia - electricity
Key Consultants Cambodia (KCC) (KCC) from Cambodia - consultancy
Power Engineering Consulting Joint-Stock Company (PECC) from Vietnam - consultancy
Ang & Associates Lawyer Ltd. from Cambodia - hydroelectric dams
Relevant government actors:Tung Ciny, deputy director general of the Ministry of Industry, Mining and Energy
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sesan, Srepok, Sekong Protection Network (3SPN), Cambodia; Mekong Watch; NGO Forum on Cambodia; International rivers; Rivers Coalition Cambodia
NGOs that demanded a new EIA: 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN)(Cambodia); Center for Social Research and Development (CSRD)(Vietnam); Community Economic Development (CED) (Cambodia); Community Resources Centre(Thailand); EarthRights International (United States and Thailand); Finnish Asiatic Society; Fisheries Action Coalition Team(FACT)(Cambodia); International Rivers(United States and Thailand); Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Center (LPSD) (Vietnam); Mekong Monitor Tasmania (Australia); Mekong Watch; (Japan and Thailand)
NGOs that submitted a a formal concern regarding human rights abuses: EarthRights International; International Rivers; Samreth Law Group, Cambodia; Sesan, Srepok, Sekong Protection Network (3SPN), Cambodia

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:According to International Rivers, one of the campaigning NGOs, the recommendations are as follows [3]: "1) The developers and RGC should recognize LS2’s severe impacts on the Mekong River’s natural resources, in particular fish, and livelihoods and food security of local communities not only inside Cambodia, but also over the entire Mekong River Basin, and reconsider the project. 2) The MRC and RGC should recognize LS2’s adverse impacts on the entire Mekong River Basin and consider the project not as a tributary dam but as equivalent to a mainstream dam, and submit it to MRC’s prior consultation process. 3) LS2’s negative impacts on the Mekong River’s ecology as well as life, livelihoods, and culture of local communities, indigenous/minority groups in particular, who rely on the river’s natural resources, should be more thoroughly assessed and weighed against the project’s economic returns. These assessments should cover not only Cambodia but the entire Mekong River Basin. 4) Sufficient information on LS2 and its resettlement and compensation plans should be disclosed to local communities who will be directly and indirectly affected by the project. They should be fully consulted and their views should be incorporated into final decisions."
(note: RGC = Royal Government of Cambodia; MRC = Mekong River Commission)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project goes on and it does not look like that it is going to be stopped.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Ziv G., Baran B., Nam S., Rodrigues-Ltrube I., Levin S., 2012. Trading-off fish biodiversity, food security and hydropower in the Mekong River Basin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (15)

[1] International Rivers 2014. Starving the Mekong: Expected social and environmental impacts from construction and operation of the Lower Sesan II Dam

[3] Mekong Watch & 3S River Protection Network Factsheet "Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project" (accessed 05/03/2015)

Middleton, C. (2012). Transborder Environmental Justice in Regional Energy Trade in Mainland South-East

Asia. ASEAS - Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 5(2), 292-315.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] International Rivers on the Lower Sesan 2 Dam (accessed 05/03/2015)

[4] Phnom Penh Post article (02/07/2014): "Delay Sesan dam: villagers" (accessed 05/03/2015)

[6] Phnom Penh Post article (02/03/2015): "Community prays to river to halt dam work" (accessed 05/03/0215)

[7] Phnom Penh Post article (29/09/2014): "Villagers refuse relocation" (accessed 05/03/2015)

[8] NGO Statement regarding human rights concerns (accessed 05/03/2015)

[9] NGO statement calling for a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (accessed 03/05/2014)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Downstream villagers comment on the dam project

Upstream villagers comment on the dam project

Other documents

Villager protests agains the dam Source:

Map of the proposed dam Source: see [1], International Rivers

Villagers pray to stop the dam Source:

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update06/03/2015



Map of the proposed dam

Source: see [1], International Rivers

Villagers pray to stop the dam