Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 20: A coalition of six local, regional and international NGOs filed a complaint today with SUHAKAM, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and requesting investigation of the economic and social impacts of the Don Sahong Dam on behalf of Thai and Cambodian communities faced with a threat of losing their main food source. The complaint also asks SUHAKAM to ensure that the Malaysian project developer, Mega First Corporation Berhad (Mega-First), complies with international human rights standards, including the obligation to engage with and inform affected communities.
Mega-First is building the Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River in Lao PDR, less than two kilometers upstream from the border with Cambodia. The dam will entirely block the main channel of the Mekong River that provides year-round fish passage through the Khone Falls area. Because Mekong fish are highly migratory, the impact on fish populations could be devastating if this key channel is blocked.
“Unless the impacts on fish migrations are fully mitigated, and it is unclear if that is possible, the Don Sahong Dam can be expected to significantly reduce the number of migratory fish species that move between Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand,” said Dr. Ian Baird, an expert in Southeast Asian geography and ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The dam’s proposed mitigation measures have not been proven effective and Mega-First has offered little data to support a reasonable belief that fishery catches and species can be sustained. This creates an unacceptable risk to fish populations, which are the basis of the lives and livelihoods of upstream and downstream Mekong communities.
Fisheries are at the center of life for many Thai and Cambodian communities, providing the essential source of protein for most Mekong communities – communities that already live precariously. In Stung Treng Province alone, an area of Cambodia where the Don Sahong Dam will have a severe impact, 45% of children are already malnourished. Yet, Mega First has done almost no investigation of how the disruption of fish will harm these communities.
“Most of my people fish as a way of life,” said Huot Seng, the vice-chief of Loe village in Preah Romkel commune, Cambodia’s Stung Treng Province. “It is how they feed their family and earn a living. But, when the company comes to build the Don Sahong Project, they never ask about fish. They just tell me there will be no problem.” Despite these substantial risks and repeated attempts by NGOs to engage with the company, Mega-First has failed to provide any response.
Another major source of livelihoods in Stung Treng is eco-tourism where it is possible to see some of the last remaining Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. An isolated pod of this critically endangered population, consisting of six dolphins confined to a pool just downstream of the dam site, will almost certainly be destroyed. Only about 85 dolphins total are believed to remain in the Mekong, and, like the fish they eat, the dolphins migrate through the Khone Falls area and may not survive the dam.
“Mega-First has not given communities any information on how – or whether – it intends to address concerns about these impacts. Mega-First has offered little evidence that their proposed mitigation measures will work, creating an unacceptable risk that the dam will destroy the livelihoods and threaten the lives of upstream and downstream Mekong communities. We are here to urge them to stop the Don Sahong Dam and conduct the proper Environment Impact Assessment for this project,” said Tek Vannara, NGOF’s Executive Director.
“The Don Sahong Project is representative of what is happening across much of Southeast Asia. Large scale development projects, funded and owned by foreign companies, are being developed without the participation of affected communities and in countries where domestic accountability measures are weak,” said Tanja Venisnik, Mekong Legal Coordinator for EarthRights International. “SUHAKAM has the ability to investigate Mega First’s activities and can be an important lever for ensuring their human rights compliance. We hope that this action will encourage Malaysian companies to take responsibility for their actions when operating abroad and as a first step Mega-First should cancel this project.”
The coalition of NGOs that signed the compliant includes Cambodian Rural Development Team (Cambodia), Community Resource Centre (Thailand), EarthRights International (USA), International Rivers (USA), The NGO Forum on Cambodia (Cambodia), and Northeastern Rural Development (Cambodia).
Read the complaint filed with SUHAKAM, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia