Low Mekong waters make life hard around Cambodia’s smaller lakes
For more than 15 years, Chhoeun Hoeum has been plying the waters of Veal Samnab lake. In recent years, his catch and income has grown smaller, falling alongside the water levels of the lake system. While Tonle Sap is recognised as a resource worthy of protection, countless other lakes, ponds and wetlands also depend on Mekong flooding but are dwindling away unnoticed
Locals say that the lake, which is just across the Mekong River from Phnom Penh, was once filled with water even in the dry season, providing fish for locals and even a route for ferries that could transport hundreds of people. Veal Samnab has long been known as one of Cambodia's largest lakes, covering more than 1,000 hectares.
When reporters for The Third Pole visited the lake earlier this year, large portions of it were completely dry. The exposed lakebed was firm enough to walk on, and villagers had divided it up to grow lotus and rice. Some had even fenced off their plots in a bid to assert ownership.
The jostling for land where Veal Samnab's waters once were is a stark example of broader changes happening along the Mekong.A ream of factors, such as overfishing, climate change, upstream dams and intensive regional development have long affected this region.
The worsening health of the Mekong ecosystem will affect the welfare of the roughly 70 million people who live along the river's banks. The impacts of environmental changes are felt most visibly by local communities such as those around Veal Samnab, and others who make their living in the countless lakes, ponds and wetlands on the vast floodplain of the Mekong.As fish become scarce and water levels fail to reach their historic depths, some villagers along Veal Samnab have stopped tending aquatic lotus in the lakebed in favour of hardier rice.Elsewhere in the Phnom Penh metro area, local developers increasingly see such shrinking waterways for construction. Bit by bit, people are filling in ponds, lakes and wetlands in a trend of mass-scale reclamation transforming the floodplain.
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