Villagers in Kratie and Kampong Thom provinces are experiencing health problems because of mining at sites such as this one in the Prey Lang forest, according to a local rights group. Photograph: supplied
Chemical substances used in about 3,000 mining drills operating in the Prey Lang forest in Kratie and Kampong Thom provinces are wreaking environmental havoc and making people sick, a report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights released yesterday says.
Substances used by a number of Chinese-run companies, businessmen and villagers to mine gold have caused 70 per cent of the trees in the area to die, and the contamination of nearby rivers and lakes, according to the group.
“Starting a year ago, villagers and animals in the community began having a lot of health problems they never used to, and at least 50 buffaloes and cows have died from drinking river water,” the report states.
The Steung Chinet River, the Kampong Thmar River in Kampong Thom and a stretch of the Mekong River in Kratie have been contaminated, it says, without identifying the chemicals at fault.
CCHR co-ordinator for public forums Chhim Savuth alleged local authorities were being bribed by businessmen to let them mine as they pleased.
“The authorities are not finding measures against the anarchical digging from mining. Instead, soldiers and environment officers are collaborating with businessmen to destroy the natural resources,” he said.
In Kratie’s Sambor district, soldiers took monthly mining bribes from businessmen of 50,000 riel (US$12.50) for small machines and 80,000 (US$20) to 100,000 riel (US$25) for large machines, he alleged.
Chhum Yim, a representative of villagers in Sandan district, said residents had previously mined the area, but only with natural substances, adding that the chemicals used by companies since 2009 were having negative effects on the community.
Those effects were worsening day by day, he said.
“If the government does not take timely action, not only will our villagers have health problems, our natural resources will be destroyed,” he said.
Sandan district governor Sim Vanna said the companies had been granted licences by the government for mining, but denied any knowledge of local officials being bribed.
Sambor district governor Seng Sotha attributed the negative impact of digging to unlicensed villagers, saying they affected the environment.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org