New Mandala reader Joe Hill has provided this brief account of increasing pollution in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap. Given the regional ecological significance of this massive lake, and its crucial role in local livelihoods, his account is cause for significant concern.
Pollution of the lake is becoming an increasingly serious problem. There is the problem of discharge of effluent from large towns like the rapidly growing Siem Reap. And there are some surprising developments on the lake bed exposed during the dry season. Extra judicial sales and long term leases of considerable areas of land by Department of Local Administration officials in Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom and elsewhere involve the alienation of land held under traditional tenure. Intensive, industrial farming practices with heavy use of fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides is hardly helping on the chemical front. All around the lake (where only 30% of farmers can grow their annual rice needs) farmers have stopped growing floating rice at the beginning of the rainy season because of what they describe as the negative impact of the sour water that washes in with the annual flood. The brief history of legal protests prepared by officials concerned for the environment tells a sad tale of brutal intimidation (“Do you not fear for the safety of your wife and children?”). Not a single case has been taken before the courts. Officials down to commune level make sure that villagers who have managed land in an extensive, environmentally friendly way and are losing land have no where to go to lodge their protest.