7 years of change: Documenting the transformation of Cambodia

Asian Correspondent
17 February 2015

With the first beams of sunlight, men and women would set out on wooden longboats, passing the reflection of their stilted homes onto the middle of Boeung Kak, a lake nestled in the heart of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Soon, their hand-made fishing nets would be filled with flapping fish, and their woven baskets would brim with morning glory. Little more is needed for a filling supper.

Most of the maps you’ll find of Phnom Penh will still show this vast body of water. Surrounded by the Council of Ministers, the Royal University and the offices of the Prime Minister, the community seemed a little out of place: Lacking electricity, clean drinking water and hygiene, it was the poor who had formed a close-knit community here.

If you’d visit the once vibrant area today, you’d find little more than sand. In 2008, a real estate company started to pump sand into the lake. A few years later, and the water was no more. Neither was the vibrant community of several thousand people that had called the lake home for decades.

That somebody would fill in a whole lake to erect high-rise buildings might seem ludicrous — but after acquiring the rights to develop the lake, that’s exactly what a real estate company did. With the economy growing at a flabbergasting average of 7.7 percent over the past 20 years, the need for development is inevitable.

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