Is Cambodia’s thirst for sand putting communities and the Mekong at risk?

The Cambodian government is embarking on a number of ambitious development projects, which critics say come at the expense of the environment and people’s livelihoods.

Sophea Soung has been farming on Boeung Tompoun, one of the few remaining lakes in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, since 2009. Every day, her family rises with the sun to float through verdant waters on a slender boat and harvest vegetables, which they then transport to sell at the local fresh produce market.

The mother of three cannot imagine doing anything else for a living. But she has just learnt that her plot will soon disappear under mounds of sand. “I have loans and I don’t have any plans for running another business,” she says.

The Tompoun and adjacent Cheung Ek wetlands spill over 1,500 hectares in the south of the city. According to human rights watchdogs, 90% of their area has been slated for a massive property development project, ING City. Since 2004, the lakes have been gradually filled with sand from the nearby Mekong and Bassac Rivers to create land for the venture. When completed, the complex will feature opulent villas, condominiums, supermarkets, an international private school and more.

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