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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Massive Hydropower Project Begins Amid Warnings

Cambodia broke ground on a new Chinese-funded hydropower dam in Koh Kong province on Tuesday, despite warnings from conservation groups of a heavy impact to the surrounding environment.

The $495 million dam, which China Huandian Corporation will control in a build-operate-transfer scheme for 35 years, is expect to produce 338 megawatts by 2015. NGO Forum, a group of organizations, has called the project “outdated, expensive and risky.” Other critics say the negative impacts of the dams outweigh the benefits.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called concerns over the dam “extremist.”

“Is there any development that doesn’t have an impact on the environment and natural resources,” he said in a speech. “Please provide a reasonable response. If we can reduce our dependence on petroleum, oil or gasoline, our energy security will be ensured.”

At least five Chinese companies are investing in dam projects—in the provinces of Kampong Speu, Kampot, Koh Kong and Pursat and along the Mekong river.

Hun Sen said he expects power to flow from different projects by the end of 2011, and into 2012, 2013 and 2015.
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Dentist volunteer sees sad sights in Cambodian prison

Dunedin dentist Gary Marks had good reason to savour his Christmas dinner this year, having experienced a taste of the squalid conditions of a French colonial-era prison in Cambodia.

Mr Marks (61) returned to Dunedin last month after about four weeks working as a volunteer for an international dental school in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

The assignment included a week on Cambodia's south coast, working inside Kampot Prison helping supervise 15 dental students treating the facility's inmates.

Mr Marks told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the inmates' dental problems included chronic decay requiring numerous tooth extractions, but the challenges did not stop there.

Cramped and "fairly squalid" conditions meant the inmates slept about 50 people to a room, on thin mattresses over concrete floors, and health problems - including HIV, scabies and conjunctivitis - were prevalent, he said.

"They were pretty sad sights in there."

Despite that, Mr Marks and his students were only allowed to work after agreeing to provide their own power generator and treat the prison's staff and families first.

Treating the staff and families took the best part of a day and a-half out of the group's week-long trip to the prison, Mr Marks said.

The international dental school in Phnom Penh, established five years ago, was one of only two in Cambodia.

The school's dean, Callum Durward, is a former dental school classmate of Mr Marks and had invited his former colleagues to volunteer to work in Cambodia.

The country lacked trained dentists as well as dental schools, with those who did practise dentistry not requiring formal qualifications, he said.

"But you know what you're getting, of course.

A lot of these back-street boys have just learnt off their parents or learnt off someone else."

Poverty had actually prevented the worst dental problems associated with the consumption of refined carbohydrates or sugars, but that was changing as people became more affluent and could afford junk food, he said.

Mr Marks' work in Kampot Prison was supported by the New Zealand-based One-2-One Charitable Trust, which assisted in orphanages and aimed to help prisoners in the country's 35 prisons over the next few years, he said.

While conceding his work was "a drop in the bucket", Mr Marks believed it was rewarding for both the prisoners and students.

He previously worked as a volunteer treating children in Nepal, and planned to return to Cambodia to continue his work in "a couple of years".
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Good Governance Could Grow Economy: Analyst

With strong recovery in garments and tourism, and strong growth in agriculture, the International Monetary Fund and government predict a growth rate of 6 percent to 7 percent next year.

But an independent analyst says Cambodia could see growth as high as 10 percent in coming years if governance is improved.

“If there is good reform on good governance, we will have powerful growth, more than 10 percent,” said Chan Sophal, director of the Cambodian Economic Association. “If we reform slowly, we’ll get growth of 6 percent to 7 percent a year.”

Shared wealth and the benefits of that growth will also depend on good governance, he said. Economic equity means that people receive a good base depending on their capacity, knowledge and resources.

Better governance will attract more foreign investment, create more jobs and reduce corruption, he said. More workers will be trained, and less land disputes will sow discontent.

Cambodia is located in a part of the world that is growing, attracting Chinese and Vietnamese investment along with the big markets of the US and EU for garments, he said. And while regional neighbors are growing out of garment production, that creates an opportunity for Cambodia to move into more of it, leading to more growth.

Cambodian garment workers have low salaries, making it more attractive amid strong competition, he said.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said more orders had been made in recent months and that some factories are now operating around the clock.
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