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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koh Kong sand dredging impact studies due

Sand-dredging ships and barges anchor along a section of Koh Kong’s Andoung Tuek River in Botum Sakor district in 2014. Mother Nature
Sand-dredging ships and barges anchor along a section of Koh Kong’s Andoung Tuek River in Botum Sakor district in 2014. Mother Nature

Koh Kong sand dredging impact studies due

The Ministry of Mines and Energy plans to release the environmental impact assessments of two controversial sand-dredging companies in Koh Kong “soon”, ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said on Monday.

Activists from NGO Mother Nature – three of whom have been arrested for interfering with the companies’ operations – have long claimed that International Rainbow Company Ltd and Direct Access Ltd began work without studying the impact on habitats and fishing communities.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay earlier this month requested that the ministry disclose the EIAs as well as government revenue from dredging operations in the province.

Soun Bunsear, head of the ministry’s licensing bureau, yesterday showed the Post an environmental impact assessment for International Rainbow from 2009, as well as a short annual update assessment for Direct Access from 2014. The ministry’s research found that dredging impact would be minimal. Government revenue from the operations wasn’t available.

“Ships can’t cross the [Koh Kong] estuaries because there is too much sand. It also causes floods,” said Bunsear. “The riverbank also collapses because of strong water currents.”

Mother Nature co-founder San Mala delivers a presentation in Phnom Penh on dredging activities in Koh Kong before his arrest last year.
Mother Nature co-founder San Mala delivers a presentation in Phnom Penh on dredging activities in Koh Kong before his arrest last year. Vireak Mai

The Post also saw a 2013 study conducted directly by International Rainbow. Parts of that report admitted that large-scale dredging operations can negatively impact fishing communities, which comprise a big part of the province’s population. Nonetheless, the report concluded that dredging is a net positive for the province.

International Rainbow and Direct Access could not be reached for comment yesterday. Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the deported founder of Mother Nature, wrote in an email yesterday that EIAs in Cambodia “have always been little more than rubber-stamp exercises where a large bribe is paid by a company in exchange for a document”.

He also cited the opinion of hydrologists and marine biologists interviewed by his NGO, saying that the notion that estuaries can naturally carry too much sand is an “outright fallacy”.

An even greater fallacy is the ministry’s assertion that sand dredging causes minimal harm to the fish and crab populations in the estuaries, he added.

Communities living on Koh Kong’s estuaries have denied that the companies have adequately interviewed them about environmental impacts, according to Mother Nature member Thun Rotha. This contradicts the EIAs’ and Bunsear’s assertion that communities have been consulted.

Prime Minister Hun Sen banned sand dredging in 2011 after public outcry over its apparently harmful social and environmental impacts. Since then, however, a small number of firms have continued to operate under specific licences granted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Son Chhay was not available for comment yesterday.

Additional reporting by Pech Sotheary

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