kandal province – A significant stretch of the riverbank that runs the length of Takhmau Park in Kandal’s Takhmau district has partially collapsed due, at least in part, to continued dredging activities in the area, officials and residents said Wednesday.
The section of the Tonle Bassac riverbank in question has sunk about 1 meter, ripping the reinforced cement bank from the walkway above, a construction project that was completed in 2007.
“Some of the damage has been caused by heavy rainfall,” said Meas Soeun, director of the provincial public transportation department. “But sand dredging has added to the seriousness of the collapse.”
The news of the collapse comes only weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen placed a ban on all dredging activities for export, a decision that was warmly welcomed by the environmental watchdog Global Witness, which in a recent statement said that dredging in Cambodia has “potentially devastating impacts” on the environment.
In Cambodia it is still legal to dredge sand for domestic uses. But environmentalists say the practice could still cause serious damage to the environment
Chan Sopheak, a construction worker on the site, who is attempting to fix the damage that has been done to the bank of the Tonle Bassac, said that the combination of extensive dredging and heavy rainfall had caused the collapse.
“Normally, I see dredging boats along the river at about 4 am in the morning going about their business,” he said.
Just 10 meters downstream from the section of the bank that has collapsed, construction workers are busily reinforcing the muddy slopes along the Tonle Bassac.
“I was hired to reinforce the riverbank to prevent the land from slipping, as it is so weak,” said Sorn Bunthoeun, a manager on the site. “So much dredging in the area could cause the land to fall into the river.”
Despite the blame being put on the area’s dredging activities for the collapse, government officials are holding the recent increase in rainfall as responsible.
“Nature has played its course like it does every year,” said Moung Samorn, deputy district governor for Takhmau. “Heavy rain is the reason for the collapse.”
He said research carried out by the provincial authorities had proven that riverbank collapses in the area were not due to dredging.
But Yean Ly, director of the local organization, Association of Protection Development for Cambodia Environment, said that despite the rainfall, dredging in the area had only added to the chances of the land collapsing.
“Dredging is such a serious threat to the riverbank. Rainfall could be a factor, but it is nowhere near as serious as the dredging,” he said.
And residents in the area hasten to agree.
Mr Phalla, a riverside dweller who refused to give his first name for security reasons, said he had already seen a house fall into the river just meters away from his own house, whose stilts dig into the slippery banks below.
“Last year residents complained, and the dredging activities ceased for a while. But now they are back and the banks still collapse,” he said.