Cambodia on Friday authorized a port in the capital Phnom Penh to dredge sand from the Mekong River, after a crackdown on unlicensed operators led to a steep hike in sand prices, affecting the country’s construction sector.
The Phnom Penh Autonomous Port was granted the sole license for extraction on the river in Kandal and Kampong Cham provinces over a period of two years, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Mines and Energy Dith Tina told reporters at a press conference.
The port had been authorized to extract around 20,000 cubic meters (706,300 cubic feet) of sand per day, he said, adding that the dredging would make it easier for boats to navigate the Mekong in the two provinces, as the riverbeds there had become shallow.
“The locations [where the port will be dredging] have experienced a slowdown of boat traffic,” he said.
“We have also conducted studies and there will be no [environmental or social] impact. We are restoring the areas.”
Port director Hy Pavy said extraction will begin following Khmer New Year in mid-April and the sand will be sold to construction companies across the country for use in concrete.
The cost of sand in Cambodia has increased by around 50 percent to between U.S. $4.50-5.50 per cubic meter (35 cubic feet) since early March, when authorities renewed efforts to enforce a ban on the operation of illegal sand dredging companies and those whose licenses had expired.
Unchecked dredging had led to rapid erosion and landslides along river banks in the country, in at least one case leading to the death of a family who was washed away with their riverside hut.
Last week, the Ministry of Mines and Energy announced that it would not be renewing operating licenses for dredging companies with expired licenses until the completion of an industry-wide impact study, and urged operators to wait between three and six months for the end of the assessment.
The ministry said that in the past it had only conducted environmental and social impact studies in specific cases where companies had requested to dredge, but is currently conducting an industry-wide assessment to ensure all companies operate sustainably.
Around 20 companies currently have licenses allowing them to legally dredge in the country, but the permits will expire in December.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy started issuing sand-dredging licenses in 2006, though many companies forgo the licenses and operate illegally.
Authorities have arrested six people since early March for sand dredging illegally and seized their operating equipment.
Reported by Ouk Savbory for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.