PHNOM PENH - Thousands of families living on the Tonle Sap river in Kampong Chhnang province will be relocated in an effort to curb water pollution.
Provincial governor Chhour Chan Dern said five floating villages in three different locations along a stretch of the river cause environmental pollution and damaged the river’s ecosystem.
“All floating villages have to be relocated to dry land and all permanent settlements built on the water will be banned,” he said.
Mr Chan Dern said provincial authorities would relocate all five of the floating villages, however they are encouraging residents to leave the river voluntarily, according to a report by the Khmer Times.
“But first, we’ll relocate a floating village in the Phsar Krom area in Kampong Chhnang City as a model in order to clean up and develop the waterfront area,” he said.
Mr Chan Dern did not say when authorities would take action to remove the villages, only saying the relocation was being carried out in accordance with the law.
“Previously about 300 families decided to relocate to dry land from the floating village in the Phsar Krom area and about 800 families are still here,” he said.
He added that it would get worse if provincial authorities kept ignoring the issue.
“If we don’t begin to remove them from the river, what will the river be like in 10 or 20 years? They will be everywhere. It will really damage the river’s ecosystem,” Mr Chan Dern said.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said in an interview with Khmer Times that he wants to relocate thousands of families living on the Tonle Sap lake to improve their livelihoods.
Mr Sakhon confirmed he has asked officials from provinces around the lake to look at sites where new housing can be built.
“At the moment we have just asked the provinces to locate suitable places to build homes for the residents,” he said.
“It’s a long-term plan we must implement. We also have a project to eliminate fishing offenses, but that cannot be achieved if we continuously allow people to live there.”
In addition to illegal fishing, Mr Sakhon said officials were concerned about pollution and damage to the lake’s ecosystem.
“I have told all provinces along the lake to consider and find appropriate locations for people to live more comfortably,” he said, insisting the plan would eventually ensure a better standard of living for residents of the Tonle Sap river.
“We’re not just making the plan today and expecting the move to happen tomorrow or even next year. We have to do a lot of planning in order to relocate them.”
The ministry and local authorities will make sure the new housing locations are supported by appropriate infrastructure to allow the people to make a living from farming and fishing, Mr Sakhon added.