Some of the 300 families in Kandal province who face the risk of their homes collapsing into the Mekong River due to severe landslides along its banks attended a meeting yesterday organised by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, where they were told the ministry will begin to stabilise the most affected areas with sand bags next week.
Though the ministry maintains the landslides are due to natural causes, rather than sand-dredging activities in the area, villagers and experts both said they believe the dredging had played a role in an increased frequency of incidents.
Ministry spokesman Dith Tina yesterday said the bank collapses are due to the area in question being located along a bend in the river and the fact that the land in question is largely sand, which erodes more easily. “This place is always threatened by landslides,” he said.
He maintained it was not related to the sand dredging by four companies, holding a total of five licences, who dredge in the area, but he didn’t respond to questions regarding the companies, including whether or not they had ever violated ministry requirements. The licensed companies are Khmer Annussa Corporation Co Ltd, Tan Kim Eng Co Ltd, the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port and Jin Ling Company Ltd.
While the ministry insists dredging is not responsible for the collapses, it will use $120,000 from a community fund paid for by a levy on sand dredgers to refill the affected areas, prioritising the most affected spots, Tina said.
A total of 57 families have already seen property losses due to bank collapses, with some of them losing portions of their homes, said Men Tum, Roka Korng I commune chief.
Sou Leng Marn, 48, a villager who lives in one of the most affected spots on an 11-kilometre stretch prone to landslides, said the area had traditionally experienced small landslides, but they became severe and more frequent after the sand dredging began. “I don’t know where I will go if my house collapses,” said Leng Marn, whose own home is near the river’s edge.
Nov Meth, 68, a villager, said the landslides intensified two years ago, when the Ministry of Mines and Energy began to award licences for companies to dredge in the area, saying it has an excess of sand.
“I’m sure it’s a combination of the sand dredging and natural causes,” he said.
Meth said the solution offered by the ministry was “better than nothing”.
Ian Baird, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with natural resource management expertise in Southeast Asia, said he wasn’t aware of the specifics of this case, but that it warranted an investigation.
“The hydrology and geomorphology of the Mekong River is quite complex, so to immediately dismiss the possibility that sand dredging and landslides are related seems inappropriate,” he said in an email.
Vann Sophath, with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he believed the collapses to be related to the dredging based on prior examples of what other communities have faced.
Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, meanwhile, a founder of the NGO Mother Nature, said the ministry was still not effectively regulating sand dredging, and illegal sand dredging was one of the main causes of large-scale river bank collapses.