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Floating villages to be grounded

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times Share:
One of the many floating villages along the Tonle Sap which the government wants to move. KT/Mai Vireak

A government minister has sounded the death knell for Tonle Sap picturesque floating villages after outlining a long-term plan to rehome all those living on the lake.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon yesterday told Khmer Times he wants to relocate thousands of families living on the lake to improve their livelihoods.
He could not say when the resettlement will take place, but confirmed he has asked officials from provinces around the lake to look at sites where new housing could be built.  
“At the moment we have just asked the provinces to locate suitable places for building homes for the residents,” said Mr. Sakhon.
“But it’s a long-term plan we have to implement. We also have a project to eliminate fishing offenses, but that cannot be achieved if we allow people to live there continuously.”
In addition to the problem of illegal fishing, Mr. Sakhon said officials are concerned about pollution and damage to the lake’s ecosystem.
He insisted the plan would eventually ensure a better standard of living for Tonle Sap residents.
“I have told all provinces along the lake to consider and find appropriate locations for people to live more comfortably,” he said.
“We’re not just making the plan today and expecting the move to happen tomorrow or even next year. We have to put a lot of planning in to relocate them.”
He said the ministry and local authorities will make sure the new locations for housing are supported by appropriate infrastructure to allow people to make a living from farming and fishing.
“We want to help people to have a better livelihood,” he said. “Once the funding is in place for this, we will begin implementing the plan. But first we need a clear plan.”
He added that he would encourage people not to set up home on the Tonle Sap lake, since they risk being caught up in crackdowns on fishing offenses.
“I will assign my officials to design a sample plan, which includes water reservoirs for the people,” the minister said.
“We will provide technical support. We will make their lives easier and they will be able to earn more money than before.”
According to an Interior Ministry report, the government received approximately $100 million to help alleviate poverty for people on the Tonle Sap lake over the past five years.
But Mr. Sakhon said those living on the lake were still just as poor as before.
Mr. Sakhon said: “This is just an idea at the moment and a long-term project. It will be developed further. We won’t be ready to implement it for some time.”
San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia, backed the idea to move residents, but said he wants to see a clear plan from ministers.
“I’m concerned this statement is being made for political gains, to encourage people who want to protect water resources and those who are living in poverty on the lake,” he said.
Mr. San Chey called on the government to issue a timeline and proper planning procedures for the relocation, rather than talking about ideas and feasibility surveys.

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