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River homes on edge of disaster

A collapsed section of the Tonle Sap riverbank in the capital’s Russey Keo district
A collapsed section of the Tonle Sap riverbank in the capital’s Russey Keo district. Pha Lina

River homes on edge of disaster

Almost 200 families in the capital’s Russey Keo district are living in fear of their homes plunging into the Tonle Sap river.

Since the middle of March, nine houses have tumbled into the river and about 24 are dangerously close to sharing a similar fate, Chea Som Un, Demkor village chief in Chroy Changvar commune, said.

“I made a report and sent it to the commune chief, district governor and Phnom Penh governor about this problem,” she said. “On Tuesday, experts from the municipal hall led by the deputy governor visited the site for inspection, but nothing has been done.”

The constant noise caused by sand-pumping activities is a regular annoyance for families living in the district, said Moak Savat, 57, who lives along a section of eroding riverbank in the village.

“If sand pumping continues in this area, my house will fall into the river,” he said.

Officials from City Hall are investigating the effects of sand dredging in the area, according to Cheak Eang, director of the municipal environment department.

“We’re waiting for the results [of our inspection] because river bank erosion can be caused by human[s], wind and nature,” he said.

Resident Em Sokhorn, 62, said yesterday that Eang’s statement was merely a means to calm residents and buy more time for those who were profiting from the sand-dredging activities.

“When we criticise authorities directly, we get blamed for living on the riverbank illegally,” Sokhorn said, adding that some had been living in the area for 35 years.

In mid-February, two small children and a woman were killed when a riverbank collapse sent three houses into the Mekong River in Kandal province.

A resident reported that sand had been pumped from the area a few years prior to the incident.

In 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen cited sand dredging’s negative impacts on riverbeds and marine areas as the impetus behind banning the export of sand abroad.

Last October, the government placed a moratorium on sand dredging in the Mekong and the Tonle Bassac rivers.

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