Kim Maneth had lived in her home along the river bank in Kandal province for four decades before it collapsed, along with dozens of other homes in an area where sand dredging has been rampant for years.
“I was shocked because I had never seen that happen, it came like a car crash,” said Maneth, 62. “I have been working hard in my whole life so that I can build this land and house, but now it is gone.”
Maneth’s home in Prey Koy commune’s Trapeang Chhouk village, built along National Road 21A, was 40 meters from the banks of the Bassac river, which has seen millions of cubic tons of sand removed as part of a multi-million dollar venture with close ties to Cambodia’s elites.
“21 families and 40 houses were affected, two houses collapsed in the river and 28 houses went into serious damage, while 10 houses were not seriously affected,” Kandal Provincial Disaster Management Secretariat reported.
The report attributed the collapse to receding river water and landslides caused by people building homes close to the river and putting weight on the bank. Sand dredging was not mentioned. But many residents in the area told CamboJA that they believed sand mining was the reason for the home’s collapse.
“I am shocked because I am getting older, and I do not have the energy to build a house anymore,” said Maneth, who added that she had invested “tens of thousands of dollars” into her home and had carefully considered the structure.
“I understand about the construction near the river, so do not blame the house owner,” she said.
Maneth added that she “did not dare” to say whether sand mining was the reason for the collapse. But she noted sand dredgers passed behind her home every day. Other residents declined to speak with reporters, saying authorities had already warned them against speaking to reporters.
“I do not dare to say anything to journalists,” one person said. “Yesterday, the police banned me [from speaking], so I did not dare.”
A middle-aged resident crossing the river in a boat, declining to provide their name, said that he was sure sand mining contributed to the collapse.
“Since I was born until this age, there has never been any kind of collapse like this, because sand mining has dug too much in the middle of the river for a long time, not just now,” they said.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy issued 49 active sand mining licenses spanning 2,320 hectares (5,730 acres) of the Mekong and Bassac rivers, the environmental outlet Mongabay reported in 2022.
Since at least last year, sand mining exports have quietly resumed after the government had declared a “permanent ban” in 2017.
“Most people say that there is sand mining at night, but we do not have any evidence, so we cannot blame anyone,” Maneth said. “Let the experts do their job and say whether this house collapsed by sand mining or natural disasters.”
When CamboJA reporters visited the scene the day after the collapse, many homeowners were fixing up their broken homes, some of which had only cracked walls and others which had almost entirely collapsed into the bank. Other owners had already removed the contents of their homes and locked the doors for safekeeping.
“I don’t know about the solution for them yet and now they need to find a safe place first,” said Kandal’s Deputy Governor Nou Peng Chandara.
Maneth said she was now staying with relatives until she could fix her cracked houses.
Department of Mineral Resources General Director Ung Dipola could not be reached for comment.