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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mekong dam decision delayed

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- A decision on the controversial $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam project on the Lower Mekong River has been delayed.

Xayaburi is the first of 11 hydropower dams -- nine in Laos and two in Cambodia -- proposed along the river.

About 95 percent of the dam's 1,260-megawatt capacity is intended for export to Thailand, which is financing the project. Thailand would operate the dam, turning it over to Laos after 30 years.

The Mekong River Commission's agreement Thursday to delay a decision on approval for the dam and to conduct further studies was reportedly already made by the prime ministers of MRC countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Indonesia last month, International Rivers says.

MRC also delayed a decision on Xayaburi last April.

"Further study will provide a more complete picture for the four countries to be able to further discuss the development and management of their shared resources," Lim Kean Hor, chairman of the Mekong River Commission's council and Cambodia's minister for water resources said Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The longest river in Southeast Asia, the Mekong stretches 3,000 miles to the South China Sea and is home to more than 700 species of freshwater fish, including the endangered Mekong catfish. The Lower Mekong supports nearly 60 million people who depend on it for their livelihood, says the World Wildlife Fund.

Environmentalists warn that the proposed Xayaburi dam poses a threat to the environment and surrounding communities.

A study funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that examined the impact of all the region's proposed dams found that the projects could lead to a net loss of up to $300 billion.

International Rivers says the $300 billion would represent lost income to the region because the fish stocks are a vital resource for the livelihoods of the people.

An international petition with more than 22,000 signatures calling for the project to be scrapped was submitted Nov. 30 to the prime ministers of Laos and Thailand.

"Ultimately the only responsible solution is to cancel the Xayaburi Dam and other dams planned for the Mekong River. We are confident that scientific studies on the Xayaburi Dam's impacts, conducted in a transparent, participatory, and independent manner, will reach the same conclusion," Teerapong Pomun, director of Thai environmental group Living River Siam, said in a statement.
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Cambodia economy to grow 7% in 2012: IMF

By AP

WASHINGTON - The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that Cambodia's economy is set to grow by 7.25 per cent next year, buoyed by garment exports and growing tourist arrivals.

The fund reports that recent floods have hurt agriculture in the final quarter of this year, but the non-agricultural gross domestic product is forecast to grow in 2011 at its fastest rate in four years.

The Washington-based fund's predictions came in a statement after an annual consultation with Cambodia on its economy. A visiting IMF team ended its mission on Thursday.

Cambodia enjoyed rapid growth of more than 9 per cent between 2000-7, the highest of any low-income country in Asia, but it was hit hard by the global economic crisis.

GDP in 2010 grew by less than 5 per cent.
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Floods deepen poverty for rural Cambodians

Chhoet Choeun, 75, in her flood-damaged home in Tamoul village in Prey Veng province, South Cambodia, where she struggles to provide for the three grandchildren who are in her care. ALERTNET/Thin Lei Win


By Thin Lei Win

PREY VENG, Cambodia (AlertNet) – Chhoet Choeun was already living precariously, having sold her land to pay for her husband’s medical bills a year ago.

The 75-year-old widow had been providing for herself and a 14-year-old granddaughter by planting peas on the small plot of land behind her shed and selling them for up to 30,000 Riel ($7.50) every three months.

Then the worst floods Cambodian had seen for more than a decade struck in August. At Chhoet Choeun’s tiny, rickety hut, built two metres (6.6) above the ground on stilts in Tamoul village in Prey Veng province, the water rose to knee level.

It destroyed parts of her thin bamboo floor and the flimsy palm leaf walls and forced them to sleep in the water, atop a mattress borrowed from a neighbour. It also washed away her pea plants.

With the land damaged and inundated for three months, her daughter and son-in-law, who were already in debt, left for Thailand last month to look for jobs. They left their two children, a five and six-year-old, with her to look after as well her other granddaughter.

“The situation has become worse after the floods. Last year, I had my peas, which I can pickle and sell or exchange for rice,” she told AlertNet, sitting on the floor of her bare hut, bereft of any belongings save for a bamboo floor mat, a blanket and a pillow.

She said they have been surviving off the rice given by an aid agency, but that is fast depleting. The peas would not be ready for at least two more months.

“For me, it’s ok. I can find anything. I just worry for my grandchildren,” she added, wiping away tears. “I cannot sleep at night. I always worry about what my grandchildren have to eat.”

EXISTING VULNERABILITIES WORSEN

Severe floods caused by heavy monsoon rains and a series of tropical storms devastated impoverished Cambodia, inundating 18 of the country’s 24 provinces. They killed 247 people and affected some 1.6 million, more than 10 percent of the population. Prey Veng, in the country’s south, is one of the worst-hit provinces.

Flooding along the Mekong and other key rivers which began in August also destroyed more than 10 percent of crops in the nation, raising concerns of food insecurity and increased personal debt.
Already, 71 percent of Cambodians depend on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood and close to 80 percent live in rural areas. Even before the floods, many were struggling to get enough food.

“The floods did not make them vulnerable, they worsened it,” said Jeunsafy Sen, Save the Children’s spokesperson in Cambodia. “They were already poor and vulnerable before. So livelihood and mental recovery from a disaster of this magnitude will take years.”

When AlertNet visited Tamoul with Save the Children, who had provided support to some of the most vulnerable families there, water had receded but the small village was still cut off.

The road remains submerged after the three lakes that surround Tamoul merged to form a vast expanse of water, a metre higher than the normal level, the chief of the local commune said. Currently it is only reachable by a 30-minute boat ride.

STUCK IN A VICIOUS CYCLE

Many of the villagers AlertNet met are in dire straits. Some had used their land as collateral to plant wet season rice, only for the harvest to be destroyed. Many have family members who migrated to Thailand after the floods.

A woman asked for help, saying the floods had dashed her hopes of building a palm leave hut for herself. Her violent husband burned down the original house years ago and it had taken her 10 years to afford thin concrete pillars to serve as stilts.

The floods have made it difficult for people to get out of poverty, like 47-year-old Vong Kim.

She and her husband borrowed $1,000 from a microfinance institution to buy petrol and fertiliser for two plots of land – half a hectare (1.2 acres) of which is her own while she rents the rest.

Unfortunately, the floods destroyed the paddy, killed the chickens and half of the rice the family of eight has in stock. It also left parts of her wooden floorboards rotten and worsened the condition of the roof, which was battered by heavy rains and covered in a giant plastic sheet.

“I borrowed the money for wet season rice and now I had to borrow 5 million Riel ($1,247) from a moneylender to pay back the microfinance and for spending money,” she told AlertNet, cradling her four-month-old baby.

“We had no idea or expectation of the floods so we didn’t have time to grab anything.” Read more!