Changing Planet

New Film Highlights Hydropower Dams and Food Security Concerns in Cambodia

A woman fishes on Tonle Sap at sunset near Akal village. Photograph by Kristin Harrison and Jeremy Ginsberg.

Scientists and conservation experts are urging the government of Cambodia to put a moratorium on the development of hydropower dams, and now Conservation International has released a new short film, Hydropower Impacts and Alternatives, that takes a closer look at the issues surrounding the dam construction in the 3-S basin within the Greater Mekong River System.

There is a clear need for more power generation in Cambodia—according to Bunra Seng, Director of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program in Cambodia, most people still lack reliable access to electricity and less than 10 percent of Cambodia’s total installed capacity has been developed. But scientists and conservation experts are urging the government to address the issue by developing sustainable, science-based solutions to the energy problems first. (Related: “Moratorium Needed on Mekong River Dams.”)

The 15-minute film explores the role of the Sekong, Srepok, and Sesan (3-S) Rivers as the most critical tributaries feeding into the Lower Mekong River, as well as how hydropower development will affect the ecosystem and the people living in the region. The greatest concern shown in the film is the affect of the dams on Cambodia’s food security.

Photo of Akal Village
Akal village, in the middle of Tonle Sap, site of the CI-sponsored Fish Sanctuary and Biodiversity Protection Project (FSBPP). Photograph by Kristin Harrison and Jeremy Ginsberg.

“This film clearly and visually articulates the critical importance of this river system for its energy provision potential, as well as the fish migration, sediment and water flows that nourish critical ecosystems and feed Cambodia’s people,” said Dr. Tracy Farrell of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program.

Recent studies have predicted that the dams will eliminate a significant portion of fish migration into the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the most productive inland fisheries on the planet, and block 90 percent of sediment flows needed to deliver nutrients to the lake and maintain fertile soils for agriculture. As a result, this could impact the health, livelihood, and food security of tens of thousands of villagers and millions of people further downstream that depend on the freshwater system. (Related: “Photos: Dams Threaten Mekong River Megafishes.”)

But the film does more than just highlight the problems with the dams; it also suggests potential revisions to minimize damage to the ecosystem including alternate placements of the dams and the design of sediment release mechanisms. Watch the full film below to learn more.

Sonia Harmon is the blog coordinator at National Geographic. She has also written for Ladies' Home Journal magazine and Washingtonian magazine.
  • karuna tek

    The Cambodian government is very corrupted. The government makes business deals without considering the negative effects on people whose lives totally depend on the rivers and the forests along the rivers. The people whom the government did businesses with are their friends, families and business partners. The government cannot allow this dam to be built because it will not make any difference in people’s lives. In fact, their lives will be worsed off than ever. People who will benefit from the dam construction is the tycoons, their friends and the government officials who are involved in this deal. The Cambodian is not just corrupted but also dumb and careless about the environment and the people whose lives affected by the dam. Cambodia has a very bad leader!!

  • Emmeline Johansen

    If you would like to know more about this film and the work around this issue check out You can contact the film’s producers via this site also.

  • Senglim Suy

    Unsustainable Development while small people benefits from the dams and many suffers from them…

  • SIN

    il faut changer ce gouvernement illégitime en place qui ne respecte pas l’écosystème du Cambodge. Ce sont des incapables comme toujours qui ont acheté leur diplôme dans un paquet surprise et se proclament spécialiste de l’environnement : la preuve inondation historique dans la capitale. Bravo l’incompétence!

  • Peter

    Interesting film. Unfortunate, though, the comment on the Don Sahong dam and fish by-pass as it reflects poor analysis.

  • satish


  • inazio

    I did 2 films for UN IOM in 2009 that already showed these problems, among many others indigenous communities in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri Provinces are facing.
    If interested. Cheers

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