Lay Sremeth and her family have lived on a narrow stretch of land by Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tompoun lake for three decades, fishing in its water and growing rice on its bank.
But shortly after authorities approved filling in parts of the lake with sand and mud 10 years ago to build malls and apartments, they could not fish or farm anymore.
Now, with just a few swampy areas left, Lay Sremeth and her neighbours fear losing their homes as they do not have titles.
A giant commercial complex under construction already dwarfs the modest wood and tin homes of the community of more than 60 families, and flooding has increased during the rainy season, damaging their homes, Lay Sremeth said.
“There was just empty land when we moved here, and we could make a living easily and get enough food. But now we have to work in factories and drive tuk-tuks, and buy food,” she said.
“We have lived here for so long but we cannot feel secure, knowing we can be evicted any time,” she added.
Cambodia is extremely dependent on its lakes and wetlands, with nearly half the population working on its seasonally inundated land, and relying on the rice and fish it provides, says conservation group Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).