Community Rights on Hydropower Development

This project supports cooperating NGOs/CSOs:

  • to influence government policies and practices on existing and future hydropower dam projects
  • to encourage the implementation of ecologically sound, participatory, gender and climate change-responsive measures for dam-affected communities, including advocating for fair compensation and benefit.

The project increases awareness of the impacts of hydropower dams on climate change among dam-affected communities and network members, and encourages the process of public participation in development projects, including an acknowledgement of people’s rights to timely, complete and accurate information on various development initiatives that affect them.

It aims to strengthen the capacity of Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) members to effectively advocate for the rights and livelihoods of men and women affected by hydropower dams.

As the delegated coordinator of the RCC, NGO Forum’s Community Rights on Hydropower Development project facilitates national, regional, and international members to implement the activities of the RCC as detailed in the 2012–2014 Action Plan.

Poor households and communities are vulnerable

Approximately 80% of Cambodia’s poorest households are farmers, relying on adequate water supply and fertile soil. If the ecosystem is not maintained, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable people including women will be most at risk of greater poverty. If the government wants to reduce poverty and promote economic growth, it must ensure that benefits and impacts of development are distributed fairly between rich and poor, ethnic majority and minority groups, and women and men.

Electricity in Cambodia has been mainly generated using diesel and heavy fuel oil, resulting in expensive energy. Developing cheaper and more reliable electricity is a priority in the government’s economic growth and poverty reduction initiatives. This will be done through hydropower development and the Mekong Power Grid, a regional power grid and electricity trading scheme devised by the Greater Mekong Sub-region program of the Asian Development Bank.

Cambodia’s estimated hydropower potential is 10,000 megawatts, of which nearly half is on the Mekong River. In May 2008 Cambodia announced plans to build 14 new hydropower dams to produce 1,850 megawatts. If the Government can secure $3.2 billion of investment, the dams will be built by 2020.

While these dams would help secure access to electricity, they may also adversely impact water regimes, agriculture, and fisheries for thousands of downstream villagers.
In the Mekong River and its tributaries, climate-induced changes in flow seasonality, timing and duration will adversely affect sensitive and economically productive wetland ecosystems such as Tonle Sap and fisheries productivity. Accurate and reliable local forecasts of extreme climate events are non-existent. There is insufficient early warning available to the downstream villagers, which could bring more negative impacts to communities if there is late information sharing on water releases from dams.

These impacts from hydropower dam development are not yet widely understood in Cambodia.

There is lack of active engagement of NGOs/CSOs in hydropower development

In the past many NGOs have worked on natural resource management, conservation and community livelihood issues without connecting these issues with hydropower dam development and its potentially negative impacts.

This results in a lack of information sharing from NGOs to the dam-affected communities and minimal NGO engagement in the process of hydropower dam development. Best practices (such as the first strategic priority of the World Commission on Dams, focusing on gaining public acceptance, negotiated decision making process, and free, prior and informed consent), and the 1995 Mekong agreements in the Lower Mekong River countries, are not well known in Cambodia.

To build links with government institutions and interact with regional or international bodies there is a need for capable NGO groups to actively assist in:

  • identifying relevant stakeholders for dam projects, using a rights and risk- based approach
  • monitoring compliance with agreements and assisting both male and female members of aggrieved parties to seek recourses
  • strengthening the technical and legal capacity of affected peoples’ organizations for needs and options assessment processes through support networks
  • identifying unresolved social and environmental impacts
  • convincing relevant authorities and stakeholders to take effective steps to address problems and seek solutions.

Historical background

The NGO Forum first worked on the issue of hydropower in the late 1990s. Various bodies formed the Sesan Working Group in 2003 (only dams along Sesan River), then 3S Working Group in 2005 (dams on Sesan, Sekong, and Srepok Rivers). Through the addition of new CSOs and an expansion of geographical scope to the whole of Cambodia, the coalition changed its name to the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) in early 2007.

From 2009-2011, achievements were made by RCC and Save the Mekong Coalition, who contributed to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of MRC. The 10 year postponement of the Mekong Mainstream Hydropower Dam Development of SEA was released and published by Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS) on 15th October, 2010. The results from this report were recognized by the Lower Mekong Countries’ governments, especially the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments.

In 2011, the suggestion from RCC on the 10 years study details on the Mekong Mainstream Dam and the assessment of trans-boundary impacts of the Xayaburi dam were recognized by the Royal Government of Cambodia. 2011 saw media coverage of issues around the proposed Xayaburi dam.

In addition to supporting the RCC, NGO Forum’s Community Rights on Hydropower Development Project has helped organize awareness-raising and capacity-building workshops and events; produced research-based materials; and carried out baseline studies of hydropower sites.

Work undertaken includes investigation and monitoring of the impacts of several dams; developing awareness and understanding of the impacts of hydropower projects among affected communities and others; developing the capacity of local leaders in analyzing issues and negotiating/communicating with decision makers; promoting mechanisms for local, provincial, national and regional consultation and dialogue between the different stakeholders, especially the communities.

Initial successes include enabling the first bilateral stakeholder consultation workshop on the EIA report on hydropower projects in Vietnam on the Srepok River to take place in Cambodia, which led Vietnam to commit to improving downstream flows by building re-regulating dams on both the Srepok and Sesan rivers, publishing approximately 25 reports on various hydropower issues, providing feedback on various EIA reports for hydro projects including the Xayaburi Dam proposed to be built in Lao which did not include the trans-boundary impact assessment to the downstream countries of the Mekong River, and by gaining widespread national and international media coverage on the concerns of affected communities from the Sesan River, Mekong River, and Tonle Sap River.

From 2009-2011, there were three research reports including Powering 21st Century Cambodia with Decentralized Generation: A Primer for Rethinking Cambodia’s Electricity Future, Best Practices in Compensation and Resettlement for Large Dams: The Case of the Planned Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project in Northeastern Cambodia, Factsheet on Xayaburi in Khmer language, and Mekong River-Dependent Livelihoods: The Sambor Baseline Survey. Training and media courses were also provided to RCC members.
This project was originally titled the Mekong Basin Community Rights Project. It was renamed the Hydropower and Community Rights Project in 2008 and then in 2012, was renamed again as the Community Rights on Hydropower Development Project.