Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Smoke on the Water: An ecological disaster along the Tonle Sap

Smoke on the Water: An ecological disaster along the Tonle Sap

A man hoses down smouldering patches of scorched earth in Battambang province after a fire ripped through a flooded forest.
A man hoses down smouldering patches of scorched earth in Battambang province after a fire ripped through a flooded forest. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Smoke on the Water: An ecological disaster along the Tonle Sap

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake has been the lifeblood of millions of people for centuries. But last year, climate change, deforestation and changing flood patterns – combined with a record-breaking drought linked to the 2015-2016 El Niño climate cycle – caused approximately 2,300 square kilometers of the wetlands surrounding it to burn. The fires caused an extraordinary ecological disaster, and the effects are only just being felt by those living along the river.

There has been practically no response to the crisis. While Environment Minister Say Samal has acknowledged the problem, solutions are beyond the scope of a single ministry, and even experts have been left wondering what can be done.

The Phnom Penh Post’s Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon has reported on the wetlands over the course of a year, and has also photographed some of the damage to the area on his reporting trips. An exhibit featuring pictures from two of his articles – Massive blaze threatens Battambang bird sanctuary and A Wetland Laid to Waste – will be on display at Meta House from 6pm on October 13 for three weeks. They show the heart of the Tonle Sap wetlands, the Prek Toal bird sanctuary, in two parts; first, during the attempts to control the fires when they reached their peak in May 2016, and then a year later, after limited efforts at recovery.

Marazzi Sassoon will also talk at the opening from 6pm tonight at Meta House.


  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this