Water Resources Ministry Lifts Ban on Sand-Dredging in Rivers

The Ministry of Water Resources has lifted the ban on sand-dredging operations in Cambodia, saying that companies will once again be allowed to pump sand from major rivers provided environmental impact assessments are conducted in each case.

Prime Minster Hun Sen put a freeze on all river-dredging operations after more than 70,000 cubic meters of land tumbled into the Mekong River on Dec 7 in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

Officials initially attributed the collapse to two months of sand-pumping by Sokimex company in the area, though a later assessment suggested the incident had been caused by a 10-meter-wide embankment built across the Tonle Bassac river to Koh Pich island by Over­seas Cambodian Construction In­vest­ment Co.

According to a Dec 18 Ministry of Water Resources statement, the government will again allow river-dredging, though the roughly 70 companies who received permission prior to the ban must reapply and comply with a new set of rules relating to the safety and environmental impact of their proposed projects.

“Only licensed companies will be allowed,” read the statement signed by Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor and approved by Hun Sen.

Water Resources Undersecretary of State Moung Saokhan said that dredging will not be allowed in two areas—where the four rivers meet near Koh Dach island in Kandal province and a 10-km stretch of the Mekong river in Kandal and Prey Veng provinces.

“These two locations will not be allowed for any company to dig sand because we are afraid its im­pact will lead to collapse again…. We will not allow to pump the river which is near peoples’ houses,” he said, adding that about 20 companies have al­ready reapplied for licenses.

Environment Minister Mok Mareth said Thursday that 14 local companies—all but two from Kan­dal province—have applied to his ministry for the environmental impact assessments they are now required to obtain prior to the onset of dredging.

“We have to study EIA first before we allow them to start pumping sand. We do not want to see the bank collapse again,” he said.

SRP Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang said that he was concerned the government lifted the ban too hastily.

“The government should clearly study about the EIA before allowing sand pumping operations. We are afraid of the bank collapsing,” he said, citing the premature pumping of sand from Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh before an assessment of its effect on the environment had been conducted.

In May 2007, Vietnamese authorities prohibited Cambodian businessmen from exporting sand from the Mekong River to Singapore via Vietnam due to concerns about potential damage to river ecology.

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