“IN the future the land on which we are standing will be no more,” says Uk Lan, 44. “Now we live around 20 to 30 metres away from the river and next year we will have to move again. We move every year.”
Lan is one of about 100 families who live in the village of Chy Rom Krom on the opposite bank of the Mekong River from the town of Kampong Cham.
“The landslides started about four or five years ago,” says Lan’s nephew, Cheng Dy, 34.
Across the small shop in which the whole family is huddled, the bank suddenly drops away, creating a precarious backdrop to our interview. However, there is no need to worry, as the landslides only occur after the rainy season floods, when the water recedes, dragging the land down with it. Now we are in the middle of the dry season.
The villagers do not know why the landslides suddenly started to occur, although they suspect it had something to do with work carried out to divert the flow to protect erosion on the other side of the river. But they have received no formal explanation.
As opposed to the Cham fishing villages further along the bank, these Khmer villagers are farmers, growing vegetables and tobacco, which they roast a few kilometres along the bank and then sell in Kampong Cham.
They used to live on the small island in the middle of the river but that is not possible now. Instead they grow crops there, rowing to the fast-disappearing sand banks each day during the dry season. Their homes are being pushed back further and further onto dry land.
“We don’t have any land to live on,” says Lan. “We rent land to live and grow vegetables.”
Fortunately for them their landlord is a “good person”, who charges them a minimal rent. Provincial officials also provide them with rice, noodles and other food, however this does nothing to allay their primary concern.
“The main problem for us is we don’t have any land,” says Uk Lan. As we leave, Cheng Dy starts singing a song about their disappearing land. Unfortunately for him, their local commune leaders appear to have a deaf ear.