IN a night dedicated to the dramatic decrease of fishing stock and the irreparable damage caused by a cascade of hydro dams on the Mekong River, German Cambodian Cultural Center Meta House will tomorrow night screen two short films focusing on the problem.
The movies, Where Have All The Fish Gone? by English journalist Tom Fawthrop and Floating Villages by young Cambodian director Koam Chanrasmey, illuminate the difficulties of Cambodian fishermen making their living from the Mekong.
“Cambodia, like most Asian countries, is a water-bound society; the life of the people has traditionally been centred on the water and Cambodians have depended on the Mekong River for centuries,” said Nico Mesterharm, owner of Meta House. “In the past Cambodia was so abundant in fish, they were literally jumping in the buckets of the fishermen.”
The increasing numbers of hydropower dams, however, built on the Mekong to meet the growing demand in energy, have disrupted the migratory path of several large freshwater species, leading to their extinction. “As the Mekong River originates in southern China and passes through dams in China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand before reaching Cambodia, not many fish are left for Cambodians,” said Mesterharm. “But taking away water as a living space from Cambodians is like depriving them of an important part of their culture.”
While the movie Where Have All the Fish Gone? gives an overview of the problems of decreasing fish stock and the impact of the government’s decision to increase the number of dams in Cambodia, Floating Villages provides an insight into the hardships faced by Vietnamese fishermen living in a floating village in Siem Reap province. “In Chhorng Kheah commune there are seven floating villages, the biggest of which is inhabited by Vietnamese immigrants,” said 21-year-old director Koam Chanrasmey, who developed the short film as part of a fellowship granted by the Rockefeller Foundation in the Philippines.
“The Vietnamese fishers face severe hardship. The fishing stock has decreased, they encounter strict government regulations on fishing, their children often support the parents instead of going to school and they can hardly afford the costs for gasoline or necessary repairs to their boats,” he said.
While the government has promised to allocate land to them, little action has been taken so far, according to Koam Chanrasmey. “It is much more lucrative for the government to sell the land to investors instead of giving it to the villagers for free,” said the young director. “And the floating villages are a good tourist attraction, too – it’s like a zoo.”
A question-and-answer session with members of NGOs invited to join the discussion will end tomorrow night’s screenings, which begin at 7pm. Meta House, 37 Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh.