Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) had the opportunity to organize a teaching mobility with the Department of Environmental Science at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) in March 2018. Two teachers from the FFRC Mr. Mika Korkeakoski and Ms. Marketta Vuola organised a two day teaching on environmental and social impacts assessment (EIA and SIA) with the focus on large scale hydro power projects.
The exchange was funded by the Erasmus+ credit mobility program through which the University of Turku and its partner universities can apply grants to organise teaching and staff mobilities. The mobilities are organised in order to support the university’s internationalisation and offer teachers and students from different universities possibilities to learn from different perspectives. In May 2018, the FFRC will welcome two researchers to Finland from the RUPP Department of Environmental Science in return.
The two day teaching was targeted to second to fourth year students from RUPP and it complimented their curriculum on EIA broadening it to social aspects. Students from the long term partner university, Institute of Technology of Cambodia, were also invited to participate. Diverse teaching methods were used as in addition to lecturing the most of the time was used for group works, presenting and peer reviewing as well as playing a game on the key concepts related to EIA and SIA. The case chosen for the group exercise was the Don Sahong Hydropower Project which is located in the mainstream of Mekong River in Lao PDR only a few kilometres upstream from the Cambodian border. The groups had to act as consultant companies assigned to conduct the EIA and SIA for the project. The exercises were presented and peer reviewed on the second day of teaching. As the students had been asked to think about the impacts without seeing the actual EIA report made for the Don Sahong Project a few years ago, it was exciting to see whether they would have similar impacts and mitigation suggestions as the real report – which had faced severe critique from the civil society and environmental organisations as well as international stakeholders and regional actors.
The groups looked at e.g. how the dam would cause and exacerbate floods, droughts, erosion and the release of toxins and how it would influence local livelihoods, namely fishing and agriculture. One group took a more holistic perspective and looked at the cumulative impacts on the whole local food chain. Also impacts on climate, soil erosion and loss of habitat caused by deforestation at the dam site were identified. Mitigation measures that the groups proposed for deforestation included offsetting – reforestation and creation of protected areas elsewhere – and displacement of wildlife in protected areas. However, some groups also assessed that the residual impacts could still be so significant that they discussed if the zero option i.e. rejection of the project altogether would be the only possible choice. The different social impacts were also well identified. One group discussed the fears and aspirations of local communities: Would it be enough if the loss of their home was compensated with building of a new school in a resettlement area? Would that be the kind of development they desire?
While the topic and the exercise were challenging and while there remains much to learn about EIA and SIA, the students examined the potential impacts in many ways more comprehensive and critical manner than the actual EIA report made for the Don Sahong Project.
The FFRC team thanks the students for their active participation and the staff at the Department of Environmental Science in RUPP for their hospitality and assistance in organising the teaching.
Marketta Vuola, project researcher, FFRC