Discussing the environmental ethics surrounding hydropower dams and sustainable development in the classroom provides students with basic knowledge and understanding about the impacts, both positive and negative, that dams could bring to the immediately affected communities and to the rest of Cambodian society. However, a field visit to the dam site further broadens their comprehension of the issue in several ways. First, the trip reinforces their theoretical insight through their interaction with the dam operator and the local communities. Second, it offers them the opportunity to find out more about the effects down on the ground and the sustainability of the dam by assessing the project themselves using the generally accepted hydropower sustainability assessment protocol. Third, they can do personal observations of the operation site and the affected areas of the communities in order to confirm their understanding.
As one of the unique and valuable aspects of our program, the field study trip on October 19, 2018 offered students an invaluable chance to witness the operation of the Kamchay hydropower dam in Teuk Chhou district, Kampot province, Cambodia, and to find out more about the perception of the dam operator towards the project, the benefits it has provided to the communities and the society at large, the negative impacts it has generated, and the challenges the dam operator has been facing since inception.
Using the hydropower sustainability protocol, the students got to assess the different aspects of the dam development project, including, but not limited to, communication and consultation; governance; environmental and social management; hydrological resources; project affected communities and livelihoods; vulnerable people; cultural heritage; biological diversity and invasive species; erosion and sedimentation; water quality; and downstream flow regimes.
Not only did the students find the interactions with different stakeholders on trip useful and informative, but they also got to personally see the dam and had a great time out in nature.