A Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker sent a letter Sunday to the National Assembly requesting a halt to dredging operations along the Tonle Bassac river in the Kandal province districts of Kien Svay, Sa’ang and Takhmau.
According to a copy of the letter, dated Feb 1 and addressed to National Assembly President Heng Samrin, SRP lawmaker Khem Laky requested that Industry, Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem stop the dredging before riverbank collapses cause the loss of homes.
Khem Laky said by telephone Tuesday that homes in the three Kandal districts, though not completely destroyed, are sliding into the river.
“[Dredging] business is causing serious land sliding and [slippage of] villagers homes and crop,” the lawmaker wrote in the letter.
Suy Sem said by telephone Tuesday that he had yet to receive a copy of the letter, but that no dredging projects on that portion of the Bassac river south of Phnom Penh have been allowed by his ministry.
“Who authorized the pumping of the sand over there?” he asked. “They are illegal.”
He said his ministry must first issue a license, and that the Ministry of Water Resources must approve technical aspects of any dredging projects.
Villagers in the three Kandal districts are hoping to avoid what has been happening to residents upriver in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
In late 2007, the government placed a temporary freeze on all dredging operations when more than 70,000 cubic meters of land tumbled into the Mekong River in Meanchey.
Villagers interviewed in Meanchey district’s Chbar Ampov II commune Tuesday said they have been in a constant retreat from the Bassac for several years as the riverbank continues to collapse beneath their homes.
Moeung Mun, 56, said the river claims about 5 meters of riverbank each year near her home in the village of Doeum Sleng. Pointing 20 meters out into the river, she estimated that was where her home had been just a little more than three years ago.
Mother of four Nou Sideth, 37, said she is always concerned about another collapse. “It was [sometimes happening] at midnight while we were all sleeping,” she said. “Previously, people were thrown into the river, but they were fine because they could swim.”
The villagers said they are afraid to complain to government officials and hold out little hope for assistance.
Funcinpec Party First Vice President Lu Laysreng said Tuesday by telephone that he almost lost his home to the Mekong River two years ago. He said he spent more than $100,000 shoring it up, adding that if he had not acted on his own behalf, his home would be gone.
Lu Laysreng said government officials came out to his home when it happened, but only to witness the landslide.
Lim Kean Hor, minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, declined to comment when contacted by telephone on Tuesday.