The bodies of a 39-year-old woman and her 18-month-old nephew were recovered Thursday two days after a riverbank collapse caused their home in Kandal Province’s Khsach Kandal district to plunge into the Mekong River while they slept, but the woman’s 3-year-old son has not yet been found, police said.
The body of the 18-month-old boy was found at 9:30 a.m. Thursday floating on the surface of the river in Preah Prasap commune about 6 meters from the scene of the accident, while the body of his aunt, Sam Ol, surfaced nearby at about 1 p.m, according to deputy district governor Khieu Sokanth.
“A team of Vietnamese divers [spent Wednesday] searching for the bodies, but they called off the search [Wednesday] night because they couldn’t find them, so we had to wait until the bodies floated to the surface of the river,” he said.
On Wednesday, local residents blamed sand dredging on the Mekong for causing the tragedy by destabilizing the riverbank where their homes were built.
Mr. Sokanth denied there had been dredging on the river and said natural erosion was the cause.
“We have always advised villagers not to carry out construction on the riverbank as it is a vulnerable area,” he said.
Yet according to Marc Goichot, chief of sustainable hydropower & river basin management for WWF Greater Mekong, riverbank erosion is a direct corollary of unsustainable dredging on the Mekong that is being worsened by upstream dams.
“Yes, riverbank erosion is a natural process in the evolution of a river, but the rate of erosion currently observed on the banks of the Mekong and delta front are not natural. They are most probably induced by both sand mining and hydropower dams,” he said.
“Sand mining represents a serious risk for infrastructure, especially [to] bridges and roads on river levee,” he added.
Despite a government moratorium on dredging around Phnom Penh, sand dredging barges can still be seen in operation on the rivers.
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