A Dam has so many effects, both good and bad. The effects on the people, who 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 bare the brunt of the Sambor Dam across the Mekong River in Cambodia, if it goes ahead.
We approach the modern, new government building of the village with high hopes of getting to speak to someone, all the while knowing that our chances are very slim. We hover near the entrance, next to the pile of shoes, whilst the translator enters and asks if we can speak to anyone. In Cambodia people take their shoes off before they enter a religious building, notably temples; so it seems a bit odd to have the pile of shoes outside the entrance here.
Soon enough, though, we’re ushered into a large conference room (with our shoes on). We sit around this grand table, staring at Mr. W who sits at the head. It all seems very apprentice like. Mr. W starts by timidly explaining that he works in administration for this district and that he has only worked here for two months. He lives in the larger city of Kratie (which is about a 36km commute by moped); so confesses to not knowing much about this area. I wonder why he decided to work in this small village, given that he has a university degree. I sense he can read the confusion on my face, whilst I scribble down what little information he has shared, as he proceeds to qualify that this is just where he could get a job after he graduated. He carefully explains that he did Accounting at university and as he couldn’t get a job in accounting, he settled for this. This somewhat reminds me of my impending graduation and need for a job – I guess some things are the same the world round.
I’m intrigued to know what he thinks of this town, given he’s come from the big city. Mr. W elaborates that the people here are very poor, as they are mainly farmers, and that he wouldn’t want to live here for long, since the people are poor. I’m slightly shocked at the bluntness of this statement.
It’s time to change the subject – ‘Are there any developments happening in the area?’. He explains that there’s a project underway to provide clean water to the village. It makes me wonder why there’s investment into the infrastructure of this area with a potential dam project looming.
I enquire lightheartedly about a potential dam project that I say I’ve heard rumblings about from the locals. He denies knowing anything about it.
“Do you think a Dam would be a good or bad thing for this village?” He smiles and diplomatically says that there are advantages and disadvantages, like with anything; but this project would be advantageous to the local people as it would bring electricity. Mr. W goes onto say how in the city (Kratie), most people have electricity, yet in this village so few places have it. I notice how this room has abnormally large windows; which I guess help to compensate for the lack of electricity by letting the sunlight have full access.
Mr. W discloses that with big projects only the high government know about them. The high government officials from this district will go to the city to learn and discuss with the government officials there. Then the government officials for this district would decide whether it’s beneficial for the plan to go ahead. His knowledge about this process, suggests to me that he does know about the potential Dam project and just that he’s not suppose to say anything.
With his denial of knowledge about this Dam project, but adequate knowledge about the benefits and drawbacks as well as the process makes me think that he’s heard the rumours too. He’s worried about the Dam proposal as that’s his job gone, a job that sounds like he scraped by just to get.