Bridge, Sessan II

View of Sreh Pok Bridge before the demolition commences. Witnessing workers started removing some parts of the bridge. It is estimated the LS2 dam reservoir will flood up to the roof of the bridge. Photo: Seiha Tiep/Oxfam

Tell my story… including what you have seen in the village too

“I am 47 years old now. I’ve spent 46 years living by and growing with the River. Since I relocated here last year… I miss my old village… I miss the River… I used to always row the boat along the river…”

Villages located in the reservoir area of the Lower Sesan II dam will experience flood as the Lower Sesan II Hydropower Company will close the dam gate from 15 July to 15 August 2017 to examine its technical operation. The villagers protested the company’s demolition of Sreh Pok Bridge, an important artery connecting the communities [who choose to remain in the existing village] to Stung Treng town.

Three day before this news came, I visited two resettled villages in ‘new’ Kbal Romeas and Sreh Sronok as part of my field work to test the Gender Impact Assessment apps that Oxfam is promoting. Oxfam promotes Gender Impact Assessment with private sector company working on large scale infrastructure project – such as hydropower dam to advocate for consideration and responsible action on gendered impacts the project cause to affected communities.

I also travelled to the old villages location as part of our business trip and witness the attempt to demolish the bridge above and what came to mind was, ‘oh have the villagers been informed about this planned demolition?” The community protest seemed to be the obvious answer.

The villagers I spoke to in late June 2017 are indigenous Pu Nong who have been resettled from their old Kbal Romas and Sreh Sronok villages to this relocation site, along the National Road 78. Indeed, it is not only the name of the villages that is ‘new,’ but the entire residents are struggling with the ‘new’ way of lives. In my attempt to understand how they come to term with this ‘new’ situation, I spoke to many men and women at the site. This blog is built on my conversationwith Bopha (name created to protect the real identity of the villager interviewed on 26th June 2017) particularly around the difficulties of her  decision to move to the new site, the new way of life, the struggle with the livelihood while keeping her traditional practice and identity as indigenous Pu Nang. I would like to present its through Bopha’s narration, which represents many of the stories I have heard in both relocated villages.

“My two siblings are still living in old [Kbal Romeas] village now and only I moved here since June 2016. The decisions to move was quite difficult for me because it meant that I chose something my other two siblings saw as different choices from theirs. They said things to me… other might get angry being said those words to. But I tried my best to compromise so that we can still look at each other and be good to each other… after all we are blood line.

I have never seen the [Lower Sesan II] dam site with my own eyes. I only heard from others. I heard that there used to be forum and the participants were brought to visit the site but I was not able to join at the time as my mother illness [she passed away shortly after].

The reason I volunteered to move here was because I heard the dam will flood the village when they start blocking the water. I am worried and afraid of the flood.  My house in the old village was low on the ground and the farm location also low. So if the area will be flooded, I don’t know who will help me? … It is hard for me to believe or not believe the information I received. But what can we do? We have to move here. You can say [we] both want [to move] or don’t want to move. There is no option to choose, really!

View of Kbal Romeas village where 58 families are still living there. Photo: Seiha Tiep/Oxfam

Lives in this village? Everything changes!

Since I relocated here last year… I miss my old village… I miss the River… I used to always row the boat along the river… over here there is not enough water. I have well in front of my house but I cannot use the water from the pumped-well for drinking. The ground water is acidic… it makes my hair quite hard and the skin as well. We have to buy water for essential use and drink. One container (2,000liter) costs 20,000R (approx.. 5USD) and it last for nearly one month for two of us in this house.

The company has never come to provide any training to us… While at the old Kbal Romeas village, I observed local NGO provided rights training [link to natural resources] to villagers. Recently, the Department of Agriculture came to talk to us here about growing cashew nut. My husband joined the meeting. They explained how much investment we need to put in if we want to grow over a hectare of cashew starting from germinating the seedling in our nursery.

How do you manage the livelihood when you live here compared to the old village where you had the river to go to?

It is difficult! We start from scratch. Example the rice field does not have the quality of land the same as our [old] land. We have to gather the roots (of the tree) and clear and burn it. My family is lucky that we can farm one season already as we are here longer but many others cannot farm. They asked to buy rice from my family… and I sold two sacks to them.

When the rain fall heavily, the village is flooded. The rain water came into the house through the window and we cannot sleep… my house has a lucky location and the water does not stay because I have the ditch. Row of tin roof houses in Kbal Romeas Thmey village along NR 78. Photo: Socheata Sim/Oxfam

Could you tell me what kind of traditional celebration the community has done since moving here?

Same like before… we have Neak Ta that we offer foods, in the village and at the rice field. We kill the oxen or buffalo to offer to Neak Ta like in the old village.

This year, I missed the river celebration in my old village because I didn’t know the information. I joined every year. Since I come here, I could not participate in this important event.

I am worried and afraid of the flood. If they really block the water, I am afraid the water will flood up to the rice field or not. Because they clear the bottom of the reservoir near (my) rice field. I am worried because my (new) rice field is next to the stream. [nervous chuckle…] I am also worried about my relatives in the old village; I don’t know … if the village will be flooded, where will they go? Where will they farm?

A classroom in Kbal Romeas Primary School was locked since 15 June 2016 when the last class for the study took place. Photo: Tiep Seiha/Oxfam