takhmau district, Kandal province – As Em Pon, 62, a former Koh Pich farmer, sees it, what’s happened to him and his neighbors since they were relocated from the lush, cool island near the NagaCorp casino in Phnom Penh to the dry, windswept fields of Krabao commune is so tragic it’s almost funny.
“This is a poor reduction program,” he jokes ambiguously as he sits in the meager shade of his thatch home on a sun-baked, 8-by-22-meter piece of land he was given in exchange for agreeing in January to leave the land he rented on Koh Pich.
Displaced Koh Pich residents said Thursday that, in the past, they managed to grow enough food to get by on their own. Now many depend on the 15 kg of rice and $2.40 they are given each month by 7NG, the company that made plans to develop Koh Pich, as part of an agreement reached with Phnom Penh Municipality when they moved.
“It’s hard to farm here,” said Nget Ouk, 36, a mother of newborn twins. “It’s very dry, and when it rains, it floods, and the vegetables die.”
The rations and cash usually arrive the first week of the month. But this month they didn’t, causing an uproar and underlining just how much former residents now depend on outside aid.
At a meeting Thursday to calm the storm, Commune Chief Yev Leng said he had the money, showing onlookers a black plastic bag that looked to be full of cash, and promised the rice would come soon.
He said the delay was because Canadia Bank—which has been linked to 7NG—would now supply the rice and money instead of 7NG.
“The delay is not my responsibility,” Yev Leng said, adding that his job has gotten much more difficult since the “new people” arrived. “They take people and they dump them on me.”
Yev Leng said there are 174 families displaced from Koh Pich and other areas of Phnom Penh living in his commune.
“When the company stops providing supplies, there will be big problems for me,” he added.
Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh’s deputy governor, suggested former Phnom Penh residents help themselves.
“If people do not try to make a living themselves, no one can help them forever,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)