I consider it a great chance for me, thanks to peace we have made, to be visiting district Viel Veng’s Atay for the first time. Without peace that we have achieved through the implementation of the win-win policy, nothing could have happened here. This is something that we all have to remember. As is reported to you by HE Suy Sem, Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy and the Chinese company’s representative, it is a great pleasure that we have come close to drawing hydroelectric potential for national development.
These hydroelectric power plants may be small or medium ones for China. For Cambodia, however, this is what we can do to gather financial resources to invest in electricity generation. As I said during my visit to Kompjai Hydropower Plant in Kompot province earlier this month, through encouragement from the Government and financial provision from the Chinese Banks, the Chinese companies have access to funding for investment in Cambodia. That has brought about favorable conditions for investment projects and so far no project fails.
We also notice that some projects have been accomplished ahead of schedule. Weeks ago we inaugurated a hydropower plant at Komjai, Kompot province. And today I come to see the progress made for this hydropower plant at Atay, which sits at the joint border of three provinces together – Pursath, Kompong Speu and Koh Kong. In this area we have three hydropower projects – Atay, Russei Jrum Kraom and Ta Tay. Along with impacts for certain land area from the closure of dams here, the three power plants will generate almost 700 MW of electricity to answer to power demands of Koh Kong, Kompong Speu and Pursat provinces but also Phnom Penh, provinces of Bagttambang, Kompong Chhonang, Banteay Menajei, Siemreap and to a certain extent to Kompong Jam province.
As of Atay water reservoir area, the extension of water conservation covers an area of some 567 square Km, which conserves some 385 square cubic meters. The hydropower directly generated from first dam, which is standing at 46.5 meters high and 340 meters long, produces 20 MW electricity power. The project has increased the hydropower pressure through a tunnel to run the second turbine down below to generate another 100 MW, which make a total capacity of 120 MW.
As for the water reservoir up here, only four families suffer the impact on their houses. I told the company to build them new houses. Some thirty three families have had impacts in terms of their land area for cultivation that we have to look for land to provide them for the land that are submerged. As for those four families, I asked that new houses, whether from wood or concrete, need to be built taking into consideration their wellbeing. This is for the sake of achieving a harmonious investment between the company and the local residents.
I am sure the company will build larger and lasting homes for the four families. Concrete ones is my recommendation. The company has invested so much already in the construction and operation, so I think there will be chances that children of these people will later work in the company’s plant too. They may train and get their children work here for the company. It is the best solution to get harmonious relations here.
There is no need to recall that the investment here is the Chinese money and the benefit is for Cambodians. I learnt that there are over 600 Cambodians who work here for 210 USD – monthly salary of 150 USD and two USD per diem for food. I also am encouraged to hear that the company will focus on using Cambodian workers in its thirty year operation of the Atay hydropower plant. I am so grateful for the plan and effort to train Cambodian human resources to operate the plant.
I wish to have your attention that water from the Atay reservoir will be beneficial not only for the two-stage operation electricity of generation above – 20 MW and 100 MW. The water release from the Atay plant will go down to add pressure on the hydroelectric power plant at Russei Jrum Kraom. As we need to make use of the water pressure, it is also our consideration and interest to make sure of its minimal impacts on environment.
I have said on various occasions about environmental impacts and I refer those to extremists. No development could have achieved without suffering from impacts. Human beings need to consume and dress. Where do we get food and materials to make dress? One needs to grow cotton to make dress. Where on earth do we get cotton? If one has to grown cotton on soil, one would have to clear the forest to do so. Impacts on environment are therefore is sure to happen. To produce cement one has to get limestone among others from mountain and also to build concrete house one has to get quarried rock. How could there these actions bear no impacts on environment?
Are they suggesting that no plane should ever fly as flying plane would cause so much impact from burnt fossil fuel emission to the environment? How many factories could anyone count in the world that is placing pressure on environment in so much the same way? Mining of all sorts would definitely and seriously causes such environmental impacts either and would anyone country stop doing so? If we want to get rice, we have to put in labor, tilling, seeding and maintenance, etc. To catch a fish, one also has had to give it bait, is not it?
What is the main issue here is to balance possible impacts from one’s action in order to lessen pressure on the environment. We need to be aware of what could and could not be done. Take for instance, to change the water current in certain system would cause serious destruction to the environment, we must not do it and think of a different way to mitigate the impacts as sometimes we have to lose something in order gain bigger something. There is no denial to the fact that there will be a cost for every development.
Some people have said things as if they know how to make it happen magically. There was a report in the media the other day that building Komjai hydroelectric power caused a loss of over 7,000 USD from fishing. They made it a fuss without even knowing the reality of the Komjai and water system there. Has anyone ever fished in that system? It was only a seasonal river system where there are not much fish to reside. After the Komjai hydropower dam finished building, water availability is on the contrary more constant in the system and more fish are observed and caught.
There is more and constant water for fish to reside and reproduce as well as for tourist to enjoy the water all year round. When it is implied that some 7,000 USD is lost from fishing, I doubt if they talked about fishing in the Toeuk Tchou (flow water) system or in the sea (which is the end target of the flow)? Talking about fishing in the sea, there is no correlation with the Komjai dam and about fishing in the Toeuk Tchou, there are never fish to catch. Well, I just want to clarify a few things here about impacts the media talked about as far as the Komjai Hydroelectric power plant is concerned.
Electricity generation has become an urgent matter for Cambodia. I am so glad to see that electricity poles and transmission lines mounted from Phnom Penh to Kompong Chhonang, Pursath, Battambang and Banteay Mweanjei provinces. The system is in place for the electricity generated from Atay, and those from Russei Jrum Kraom and Tatay will also be coming this way. It will be not long before we get to 2013. The company has committed that the generation of electricity will be possible in May 2013.
That is a good thing because by July 2013, Cambodia will hold the general elections. That will be a plus for Cambodian People’s Party in the elections. Some political parties may demand that the power generation should wait till after the elections, but how can the company put the generation on hold? It would not be possible to put the operation after or before the date set for the operation by the plant. It should be noted that we will have more electricity from Kirirom III in 2012 and Atay in 2013. It goes without saying that more will follow from Ta Tay and Russeijrum Kraom.
The Atay investment total 255.3 million USD – 199.97 million USD for the dam and plant construction and 53.33 million USD for the construction of electricity poles and wiring, and substation at O Saom and transmission line to Pursath province. It is a BOT investment which the company will spend four years to build and 30 years to operate it. After that it will be transferred to Cambodia’s ownership. The state has been involved in de-mining an area of some 54 million square meters, of which 31 million square meters have been done, and some 22 million square meters more to go on. The operation discovered and cleared 494 pieces of mines of various sorts, 635 unexploded ordnances, 5,759 pieces of shrapnel.
I have mentioned on various occasions that it has been unfortunate for Cambodia that because of protracted war, when there were bombardment and shelling, our land has been left with so many mines, unexploded ordnances and shrapnel. Take this area of Oral and Kravanh Mountain, for instance, and even from there down to Samlot, Tasanh (in the northwest of Cambodia), we all have to face the truth in our history, they never ever were controlled by any Governments before. Not when the French or the Japanese were in Cambodia or even under the Popular Socialist Society (Sangkum Reast Niyum) time.
The areas were integrated fully in 1996. Though some governments could have intruded certain places of the area, they could not establish control anyhow. There was no such feeling and atmosphere that we could come together and talk to each other like we are today. There would not be an opportunity as it is now if it were not for the win-win policy. On my way here, seeing the geographical condition down below from the bird’s eye view, I used to think that there would be no way that Cambodia could end the war and mistrust.
Those who took refuge in the jungle would retreat once the government forces advanced. They would return and cultivate when the government forces pulled back. The forest looks intact in many areas except areas closer to the project site. I now am touching on issues that I would like authorities of all levels to pay attention to. At the time when we started the integration, it was registered to have 998 families living in the whole area of what is defined later on August 6, 1997 as the district of Viel Veng – which consists of the communes of O Saom, Pramaoy, Anlung Riep, Krapeou Pi and Thmar Da.
As of the present moment, we have 6,469 families or 25,626 people. As noted, there is a clear increase of population and this has brought about impacts in various ways on the environment – logging is one of them. When no people live here, there were no loggings to worry about too. I may remind that this area is marked as protected shelter for wild animals, for conserving and preserving nature and forest. We must take all necessary measures so as to protect the natural environment and to evade negative impacts in rain water collection surface of Atay, which is crucial for the plant.
Please allow me to take this opportunity to issue the following orders in that matter. Firstly, local authorities, concerned ministries and institutions must clearly define current land for residence and cultivation, on the basis of all existing laws concerned, to allow each family a size of five hectares of land. This policy should guarantee that no one family would be left without land to cultivate and it is applied to all families in the area.
Secondly, while doing this, annul all land tenure receipts and or related papers which has been issued and used for occupying land illegally in the areas of natural and forest preservations and conservations. As today we have the presence of the governors of provinces, districts, communes, villages, and I have said it on various occasions and even issued written instruction already, any such papers will be considered null and void. I declare annulment of all documents such mentioned. Any protest on this would result in strong action from me.
I would also warn any extreme action against those local people who have legally occupied land in this area. They must be legally recognized. For those who are not permanent residents of the area, all papers must be annulled. I warn you not to sign any such documents anymore. The Royal Government of Cambodia no longer recognizes any such papers or documents.
Thirdly, authorities of all levels must cease issuing any paper approving occupation of, selling and buying of, donation of, transference of or lease of land illegally in the areas of natural and forest preservation and conservation.
Fourthly, the armed forces, local authorities of all levels and concerned institutions must cooperate with the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to prevent and stop illegal logging, land claiming and confiscation, hunting so as to guarantee protection and conservation of forest and nature in the protected zones. As a matter of fact, the Phnom Kravanh area has gathered many different species of wild animals which the world has admiringly recognized. It is in this note that we have to make collective efforts for the above protections.
This will prevent action that would otherwise cause unsustainable water availability to generate the electricity with regard to Atay hydropower plant as the water could have depleted leading to no more water to run the turbine. Having done that we will be able to protect and conserve biodiversity of the slope land areas of Kravanh, which helps preventing land erosion that causes silting in the Tonle Sap Lake. As you can imagine how serious this could impact on environment and society as a whole.
Fifthly, as far as safeguarding and conserving the forest in the area, we will make money out of it. In short, we will make money from keeping our forest intact. In the world, for your information, as part of the climate change mitigating plan, any country that protects the most forest will get the most profit. Those countries that release fossil fuel emission into the air pay compensation to the United Nations, whereas the money will be paid to other countries to keep their forest from logging. You may know that the forest absorbs fossil fuel carbon emission.
On this note, I call on all to take part in this effort to keep our forest intact, to prevent our forest from logging so that we will make more money from it. We safeguard our forest on the one hand and we make money from this good action on the other. I may inform you that money made from forest keeping, take for example the Samkok Mountain area, will be used for building roads, hospitals and schools, etc. in the area. I hope, therefore, all villages in the area will take positive actions and attitudes to protect the forest in the area for their own benefits.
I hope strongly that I will come back again in 2013 to put into official operation the Atay Hydroelectric Plant. I would like to take this time before ending my speech here to appeal to all our people to look after themselves, especially elderly ones, as the temperature in these few days has gone down, in some areas to between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius. All concerned authorities must take precautionary actions to look after elderly people especially to evade possible negative impacts from coldness./.