Mining the Mekong: Land and livelihoods lost to Cambodia’s thirst for sand

Sand mining by politically connected companies has been blamed for the collapse of riverbanks along the Mekong and Bassac rivers in Cambodia.

Some 45 kilometers, or 28 miles, up the Mekong River from Phnom Penh, Voi Thy sat and watched as 12 boats pumped sand from the riverbed. Another 11 boats, weighed low by their quarry of freshly mined sand, were making the glacial journey past her home in Roka Koang commune, Kandal province, to the capital.

In late June, 43-year-old Thy was slicing up bottle gourds outside her house, propped up by makeshift wooden stilts that descended down into the collapsed banks of the Mekong.

Each year, she said, the riverbank erosion gets worse. Two large collapses during Cambodia’s rainy season in May and June 2021 saw Thy move her house further from the river. But a more recent collapse in November 2021 forced her to remove a part of her house that was left hanging precariously over the water’s edge.

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