Project to ease hardship on Southeast Asia's largest lake
Monday, May 19, 2003
By Graham Dwyer
Chong Kneas, Cambodia - For the residents of the floating villages of Chong Kneas, at the northern end of Cambodia's great lake, the Tonle Sap, life on the water is one of extreme hardship and vulnerability.
Chong Kneas is a major landing point for fish, cargo, passengers and fuel bound for Siem Reap province.
As with other fishing communities in the flooded area of the Tonle Sap, the way of life for the 5,000 or so inhabitants is strongly tied to the seasonal rise and fall of water.
To make way for a project to improve living and environmental conditions in Chong Kneas, Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a technical assistance grant of US$997,000.
The TA, financed by the Government of Finland, will be conducted over eight months and will include detailed social, environmental and institutional analyses for a possible project for a new year-round harbor and flood-free township.
"There is a strong interrelationship between the poverty in the area and poor environmental and living conditions," says Ian Fox, ADB Principal Project Specialist (Portfolio Management).
Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake, providing livelihoods for over 10% of Cambodia's population. Its water level varies considerably and the inhabitants of six of the seven villages at Chong Kneas live in houseboats that need to be moved with the changing levels.
The seventh village is perched on the side of a road embankment running south from Phnom Kraom, an isolated rocky outcrop rising about 140 meters above the otherwise flat terrain of the seasonally flooded land bordering Tonle Sap.
When the water level is high, residents of Chong Kneas cluster at the base of Phnom Kraom.
In the dry season, the floating villages anchor in a small inlet at the edge of the lake, where there is ready access to fishing grounds and some protection from storms and waves.
The constant seasonal movement is costly to the villagers, who must pay for towing and running repairs to their vessels, which together account for a large part of their annual expenditure.
Because of the seasonal water variation and movement of the shoreline, there are no formal port facilities at Chong Kneas. An earthen road embankment alongside a navigation channel is used for offloading fish, cargo, and passengers.
Access for passengers and cargo is rudimentary and precarious. The channel is often heavily congested with regular traffic, floating houses, fish cages being towed, and tourist boats coming and going.
Not surprisingly, the channel is clogged with floating trash, rotting organic matter, and fuel and oil spills, making it a stinking repository of solid and liquid waste.
"It is a hazardous and unhygienic setting that poses a health risk to the villagers and limits opportunities for economic activity and tourism development," Mr. Fox points out.
"The community has requested not only proper port facilities, but also a permanent living area on the land. By moving the villagers onto reclaimed land, it will allow the provision of clean water, sanitation, and other social and health services."