Mekong Dams will impact Cambodia’s Food and Nutrition Security, Government study reports

Posted on 07 July 2013

A new study conducted by the Fisheries Administration’s Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFREDI) warns of decline in food and nutrition sources for Cambodians, and negative impacts on social equity, if proposed large-scale dams go ahead on the Mekong mainstream at Stung Treng and Sambor.

This study – jointly supported by the Danish International Development Agency, Oxfam Australia and WWF – found that Cambodians rely on fish for nearly 20 per cent of their daily diet and 80 per cent of animal protein intake, with pregnant women and adolescents consuming more freshwater fish than other segments of the population.

Understanding the roles and benefits that freshwater resources contribute to in Cambodia’s economy and society is a critical part of cost-benefit assessment when considering large-scale dam construction, as this study shows. If the proposed mainstream dams are built, the report highlights serious food security challenges for the nation as its population is expected to increase by 43 per cent, reaching 20 million people by 2030, while freshwater fish yield in Cambodia is projected to drop by 30 per cent in the same time-frame in this scenario.

This means a reduction of 34 per cent in the fish and fish products available, and would have strong detrimental impacts on the rural population living in the plains, who depend heavily on fishery products for nutrition and income, and have little access to other forms of protein. Children and pregnant women are the groups most vulnerable to protein deficiency, as people in these groups require higher levels of energy, protein, fats and iron compared to their body mass index.

The Mekong River is the lifeblood for the Greater Mekong Region, known to be a biodiversity treasure trove, with more than 1000 new species discovered in one decade. The Mekong River itself boasts of rare and amazing wildlife such as the freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin, the giant Mekong catfish, giant freshwater stingray, Cantor’s giant softshell turtles and many other species.

It is also home to the largest inland fishery in the world. For Cambodia, this translates to an economic value of freshwater fish and aquatic products that is estimated at US$1 billion. This does not yet include other important economic values such as value-added, export, and the provision of direct and related employment and livelihoods in fisheries industries.

WWF supports the findings of this study and its recommendations for close monitoring and evaluation of fisheries’ contributions to national food security and nutrition. The important findings in this study signal the need to include sound science and public consultation with local communities as part of the decision-making processes for hydropower development.

The full report is now available from the Cambodia Nutrition Community Library.
IFREDI report graph
This graph projects how the Sambor, Stung Treng and other Mekong Dams are expected to impact Cambodia's yield of freshwater fishery resources.
© Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFREDI), Cambodia