From the flooded forests of the Tonle Sap Lake to the banks of the mighty Mekong River, fishing has always been central to the peoples’ way of life in Cambodia. Yet, a threat now looms large to these rich fisheries and the communities that depend on them. In October 2006, the Cambodian government gave approval to the China Southern Power Grid Company to prepare a feasibility study for the massive 3,300 MW Sambor Dam, to be located on the Mekong River’s mainstream at Sambor town, Kratie province. In November 2010, the Cambodian government announced that China Guodian Corporation would carry out feasibility studies for the project's 465 MW and 2,600 MW options.
If built, the Sambor Dam would block major fish migrations between Southern Laos and Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, destroy critical deep pool fish habitats, and interrupt the river’s hydrological, sediment and nutrient cycles, impacting the river’s wider ecology. Ultimately, the project would jeopardize the fisheries vital to Cambodia’s economy and food security.
A 1994 study estimated that over five thousand people would need to be resettled if the Sambor Dam was built. The Mekong River Commission's 2010 Strategic Environmental Assessment estimated that around 20,000 would be evicted from their homes and land. The dam also threatens the habitat of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, whose territory includes the deep water pools close to the proposed dam site, and around which a thriving local tourism industry has grown. Even a smaller 465 MW project would result in severe impacts due to the project’s sensitive location.
The Sambor Dam would be a tragic and costly mistake for Cambodia. Cambodia’s fisheries safeguard the food security of millions of subsistence fishers and contribute over 15% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). International Rivers is calling on China Guodian Corporation to cancel its involvement in the project, and for the Lower Mekong River’s mainstream to remain free of large dams.