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More riverbank collapses near sand dredging site

Broken cement is visible behind the home of a Kandal province villager, part of whose home collapsed into the Tonle Bassac recently.
Broken cement is visible behind the home of a Kandal province villager, part of whose home collapsed into the Tonle Bassac recently. Yesenia Amaro

More riverbank collapses near sand dredging site

Still more riverbank collapses have struck a community in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district where multiple houses have crumbled into the Tonle Bassac river a stone’s throw from where four companies are dredging the riverbed for sand.

Chea Chan and Chum Theary’s home was one of several recently affected when their toilet and makeshift kitchen collapsed into the river on July 27, and the couple fears that more collapses will do away with what’s left of their home.

“It’s not safe at all,” Chan said on Friday. The couple said local authorities inspected the affected areas, and again attributed the erosion to natural causes, an explanation villagers refuse to accept.

Four companies – Leng Chin Group Co Ltd, Song Sopheap, Bassac Mekong Development Co Ltd and Porniron Co Ltd – were granted two-year dredging licences in the area by the Ministry of Mines and Energy in 2016.

In mid-June, following a spate of collapses, officials from the ministry promised villagers that the riverbank would be reinforced, and that pumping stations would have to stay 50 metres away from the bank.

On Friday, however, several vessels and pumping stations could be seen operating very close to the riverbank, but Ly Hong, Koh Kor village chief, claimed that a company was filling in already-eroded sites, not removing more sand.

He maintained the recent collapses only affected three homes, but villagers and activists claim eight families lost portions of their homes.

In June, residents from four villages, including Koh Kor, signed a contract with Leng Chin Group representatives saying the company would be responsible for damages to land and homes.

“The company must be responsible for damage or losses, according to the law or any relevant documents,” a copy of the contract reads.

However, Nhem Vandin, Sa’ang district governor, placed the blame on the villagers.

“We have told the villagers there about three times, so far, to be more cautious,” he said. “They could look for a safer place, if possible, because they are living along the riverbank.”

He said he had sent officials to inspect the most recently affected areas, and attributed the erosion to the high level of water in the river.

A Leng Chin Group representative declined to comment, as did ministry officials, referring questions to spokesmen who could not be reached. Kang Sam Nieng, 32, also lost a portion of his back home in the recent collapses, including his toilet as well.

“I don’t think there’s a solution for the future,” he said.

Hun Vannak, an activist with the environmental NGO Mother Nature, said the ministry hasn’t shown villagers an environmental impact assessment from the companies.

“We believe that right now, the companies don’t have those documents,” he said.

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