What is happening with Cambodia's Lower Se San 2 dam?

Elliot Brennan's citation of a Bangkok Post report of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's speech at the opening of the Stung Russey Chrum Krom hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong province in Tuesday's Southeast Asia links is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, because Hun Sen announced his firm commitment to the construction of hydroelectric dams, built with Chinese support, even if environmental damage is involved. Second, and more importantly, because of Hun Sen's reported intention to participate in a ceremony to mark the opening of the Lower Se Sam 2 dam on a Mekong tributary near Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia in 2018. This has not been reported in Cambodian media.

The projected Lower Se San dam has been a focus for environmental opposition over many years because of the high risk to fish stocks its construction could cause. One highly regarded analysis of its effects (reported in The Interpreter in 2013) argues that it could lead to a diminution of nearly 10% of fish stocks in the Mekong River system.

But beyond reports that clearance work has taken place at the dam site, with some displacement of population, there has been remarkably little information made available by Phnom Penh on progress towards the construction of the dam. This has led to a variety of calls that information should be provided.

Hun Sen's reference to presiding over a 2018 ceremony appears to be the first clear statement that construction of the dam will go ahead.

It might also be argued that Hun Sen has embraced a tactic already used by Laos in relation to the construction of its own controversial dam projects: say little about your intentions and then act preemptively. In the case of the Lower Se San 2 dam, Phnom Penh is under no compulsion to do more than notify its Mekong River Commission partners of its intentions. There is no basis for those partners to prevent construction of the dam.

Finally, although it is probably unwise to read too much into Hun Sen's reference to a 2018 ceremony, his statement may be taken as a reference to his expectation of still being in power at that date. It is the sort of statement he has made on many occasions and should be seen as a piece of political 'boilerplate' rather than a calculated assessment of the political odds.

Photo (showing Nam Gnouang Dam, on a tributary of the Nam Theun River in Laos) courtesy of Flickr user WorldFish.