Southeast Asian journalists explore dams and their impacts

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Internews, Cambodia

Hydropower development is racing across Southeast Asia’s Mekong region, and Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) is helping journalists investigate the costs and benefits for the environment and communities. As part of the USAID-sponsored Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) program, EJN supported 15 journalists to meet researchers, affected communities, Cambodian government officials and local NGOs in a workshop last week,  “Understanding Energy: The Benefits and Costs of Hydropower”, focusing on hydropower dams in Cambodia.

Ten of the participants from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam took study trips to villages near a large-scale hydropower construction project, eco-sites, and affected areas along the Sekong, Sesan and Mekong Rivers in northeastern Cambodia. While the dam project will provide much-needed energy and income for the region, it also has an array of serious risks for fisheries, agriculture and communities along the rivers.

“We can see the situation villagers are challenged with,” said Mr. Khoun Narim, a reporter with the Cambodia Daily newspaper. “And their life in the future, and how the water will change when the dam will be completed.”

While much of the workshop, held June 22-26, focused on learning about the environmental risks associated with hydropower, balance and fairness was a key theme to the week. Journalists met with several Cambodian government authorities overseeing the project, including both provincial and national Ministries of Mines and Energy, as well as fisheries and environment departments.

“Hearing from both government officials and NGOs is really great so that I can strike a balance between the two different sides,” said  Mr. Khine Lin Kyaw, Business Editor from Myanmar Eleven.

The event was part of the EJN-affiliated Mekong Matters Journalism Network, facilitated as part of the MPE project. It was co-organised by MPE partners Internews/EJN and Pact to increase access to information about the costs and benefits of regional development projects.

EJN aimed to give participants a vivid experience, with access to an array of sources and downstream environmental sites, as well as a chance to work side-by-side with other regional journalists.

“I got a real experience and true emotion,” said Ms. Nguyen Thi Mai Lan, editor of a Vietnamese investment news website. “I feel more self-confident reporting on hydro-power dams in Vietnam – and in general – not only on this Cambodian dam.”

The next Mekong Matters event is set for August 11-13, and will focus on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.