Two environmental groups submitted a request yesterday for a meeting with the ambassador of Singapore to address the city-state’s imports of sand dredged off the Cambodian coast. Environmental groups and villagers have been decrying dredging in Koh Kong province for more than a decade, and have long pointed the finger at Singapore for its appetite for sand.
In a letter addressed to Ambassador Kevin Cheok, NGOs Mother Nature and the Cambodian Youth Network laid out a series of questions for the ambassador to address. Among them, they ask if the Singapore government is still purchasing sand, how much they have imported since 2008, which private companies the authorities have bought sand from and if there is any regulation of sand imports within the country.
The request cites a November 16 letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen, sent to the National Assembly, which acknowledged that dredging was primarily conducted for export. ‘
“Because we don’t have the market in the country, that’s why we send it abroad,” he wrote, without identifying the destination of exports. Rejecting a claim by opposition lawmaker Son Chhay that dredging companies were Vietnamese, he wrote that the two companies granted dredging licenses, International Rainbow and Direct Assess Co. Ltd, are locally owned. They were given permits despite a 2011 ban on dredging. Mr. Hun Sen downplayed environmental concerns, saying that the dredging is actually having a positive impact on nearby residents.
“The government is thinking about restoring rivers and lakes congested by mud and sand to facilitate water traffic and transportation,” he wrote, adding that dredging can help reduce the risk of flooding. The NGOs’ letter asserted that, despite the prime minister’s assessment, the dredging was wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.
“Fishing communities remain deeply concerned that the ongoing sand mining operations in Koh Kong’s estuaries and creeks continues to cause serious impacts on their livelihoods, due to a decrease in fisheries and other environmental impacts,” they wrote.