A Dam has so many effects, both good and bad. The effects on the people, whose lives are at stake, are sometimes forgotten in the whirlwind that occurs before a dam project is given the go ahead. Here I tell a few stories of the people who will bear the brunt of the Sambor Dam across the Mekong River in Cambodia, if it goes ahead.
A few paces into the village, I come across a woman whose smile radiates. She seems welcoming; so we approach and strike up a conversation. Mrs K. has always lived in this village with her whole family. She has two children who are in grade 3 and 5. She is a housewife and her husband is the local primary school teacher. These basic facts provide a large insight into this woman’s life.
Soon enough our conversation turns into a discussion of the beautiful Mekong River. Mrs K elaborates on how the river is intertwined into her daily life. I can feel her getting passionate as her hands start to join in with the conversation as she is pointing to things in her surrounding, or maybe she’s just under the same spell of the Mekong that I am. She points to the road, explicitly showing that the fisherman accompany the houses on one side of the road (that back onto the river) and the other villagers live on her side. These villages buy the fish from the fisherman and at the same time provide for the fisherman (like her husband being the primary school teacher). Without taking a breath she explains how during the dry season the fisherman grow rice, cucumbers and corn. And then she chuckles as she says that despite her love for the village, the rest of the vegetables she eats are imported from Vietnam (as they’re cheaper than buying them from other neighbouring villages) and sourced from Kratchie, the biggest town in this area. I laugh too as I know how we are all guilty of buying the cheaper produce.
After the lightheartedness of this conversation so far, at the mention of the Dam Mrs K’s face turns solemn. She stares out towards the Mekong River, deep in thought. I don’t want to push her, so I let the silence linger. Slowly, whilst still staring out at the River, she says that she’s only heard rumours about a Dam. I look at her and nod sadly, but the River has her attention now.
In these communities, it is usually those who are closest to the government who have the most knowledge about things. Despite her husband (a teacher) being employed by the government, she knows next to nothing, which upsets me even more. Her life could be ripped from underneath her and she has so little control over her situation, her future and even her children’s future.
Treading very carefully over this sensitive subject, I ask whether she has anywhere she’d like to move to. Mrs K lapses her gaze at the River and turns to me, to say the simple answer of ‘no – my whole life is in this village’. My heart goes out to Mrs K. There’s nothing I can say or do. It is an extremely unjust situation.
She doesn’t know when they might build the Dam, or how it will impact her family. No one has told her or her village anything. A stark contrast to what I later find out from government officials, whose interviews you can read about on the 7th March.