Toeuk Chhou: A dying natural Resort?
Toeuk Chhou is very well known among Cambodians. It was a very popular natural resort in the sixties under the reign of Norodom Sihanouk. People went then to visit Kep, a beach city and returned to Toeuk Chhou for taking a bath in this wonderful fresh water resort. It is located about 8 Km from Kampot provincial town. People can reach Kampot by taking the national road # 3 in the southwest direction, about 140 Km. The road is recently rehabilitated by using the loan from South Korea and it was officially inaugurated a few days ago by PM Hun Sen.
During the Water Festival Holidays, from 09-11 November this year, I took time to bring my brother in-law and his children to visit Sihanoukville, Kampot, Toeuk Chhou and Kep. I would like to see Toeuk Chhou again just to see with my own eyes on what happened after reading several bad news that it is dying due to the water shortage. The stream water originated in the mountains upstream, where a hydro power dam is now is being built by a Chinese firm, SINOHYDRO. The dam will generate about 194 mgw power to supply Phnom Penh and other cities. It costs about U$ 280 million. It will be inaugurated soon. The power plant does need all the water for operating and generating electricity. Therefore, the water way was blocked 2-3 years already.
During my visit on 11.11.11, it was sad to see what is happening. There is very little water in the stream. Few years ago, we could not even cross the stream from one side to the other side due to strong current flow. One hanging bridge was built for visitors to cross over. The water was in very good quality, clean, clear and very refreshing. We always felt great joys having bath in Toeuk Chhou. But, on that day, I felt really sad. Very few visitors came on that day. Some just came in and turned away since it looks not very promising. The vendors complained that there is hard for them to sell something to visitors since many years already. They hope that after the water will be released again when the dam is completed, may be they will be steady water to make the stream coming back to life again. According to experience elsewhere, water could be back again. At the beginning the quality is rather critical due to submerged forest and vegetation, but it took several years for nature to clean up itself and bring the water quality back to normal.
To me it raised the question: is that the solution? We do need hydro power dam and electricity for developing our country. But, how can power dam coexists side by side with the environment, brings good socio-economic impacts to the society and helps to promote tourism? Was there a fair negotiation between government and the private developer to balance the impacts and the economic trade-off? We would like to have power and at the same time to have enough and good quality water. The government is planning to build more hydro power dams blocking some rivers in Cambodia and hope to bring the price for electricity down to pave ways to attract investors. High costs of electricity, lack of proper infrastructure, high transportation costs, unfair competition climate and corruption are vital factors to keep real investors from coming to Cambodia.