Phnom Penh Poor Uprooted As Lakes Filled In For Malls, Flats

PHNOM PENH, July 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Lay Sremeth and her family have resided on a slim stretch out of land by Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tompoun lake for three years, fishing in its drinking water and growing rice on its bank or investment company. But shortly after authorities approved completing parts of the lake with sand and mud a decade ago to construct malls and flats, they could not fish or farm anymore.

Now, with a few swampy areas left just, Lay Sremeth and her neighbors dread lose their homes as they do not have titles. A giant commercial organic under building already dwarfs the humble real wood and tin homes of the city of more than 60 households, and flooding has increased through the rainy season, damaging their homes, Lay Sremeth said.

Cambodia is extremely influenced by its lakes and wetlands, with nearly half the population working on its seasonally inundated land, and relying on the seafood and rice it provides, say conservation group Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). But as the country expands quickly, space reaches a premium. Within the last 15 years, about 50 % the country’s wetlands have disappeared, relating to WWT. Is this more obvious than in the capital Phnom Penh Nowhere, where 15 of 25 lakes have been filled up in, among others partly packed or earmarked for reclamation, according to land rights company Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT).

Isaac Daniels, an intensive research advisor at STT, which estimates that a large number of the 1,200 poor households around the lake have been evicted. Government bodies say reclamation is essential to produce much-needed infrastructure in the populous city. Just over a fifth of Cambodia’s 16 million people live in cities, according to the World Bank, compared to an average of nearly half in the rest of Southeast Asia.

The country’s low urbanization is partly due to the massive forced relocation of people to rural areas under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, according to historians. The lethal regime also ruined the nation’s property records to determine a kind of communism, which has resulted in disputes over land ever since.

With growing investment in metropolitan areas such as Phnom Penh, more migrants are moving in from rural areas searching for jobs. Situated on the banking institutions of the Tonle Sap, Bassac, and Mekong rivers, Phnom Penh is highly vulnerable to floods already, from June to Oct particularly in the rainy season.

The filling in of lakes “exacerbates the city’s existing drainage problems and seems to take place without full account of environmentally friendly impacts,” the World Bank or investment company said in a 2017 report. Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said authorities have undertaken environmental impact assessments “where necessary” for Boeung Tompoun and other developments that require reclamation. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that Southeast Asian nations will see more extreme rainfall consequently of warmer temps, increasing flooding risk from Bangkok to Manila thus.

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At the same time, the filling of wetlands and vacant green sites for construction in Phnom Penh and other metropolitan areas is causing increased flooding, said Diane Archer, an extensive research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Bangkok. Ponds and lakes lessen and slow water runoff and are fundamental to flood prevention, she said. They also drive other benefits such as groundwater recharge, cooling, and better quality of air. Cambodia’s Hun Sen-led federal government began courting foreign investment in the 1990s to spur the overall economy and boost earnings. That paved the way for large financial land concessions for agriculture and mining.

Between 2000 and 2014, about 770,000 Cambodians – more than 6% of the populace – were affected by land conflicts, according to human privileges lawyers. Hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese are in threat of being removed from the Tonle Sap lake, where they have lived for many years. In Phnom Penh, a populous city of about 1.5 million people, a large number of families have been evicted for development projects, particularly around waterways, human rights groups say.