From 1975 to 1979, millions of Cambodian families were murdered, starved, or displaced by the Khmer Rouge regime. The filmmaker Kalyanee Mam’s family was among those uprooted from their homeland. Recently, Mam traveled back to the country from which her family fled. “What I found there shocked me completely,” she told me.
Decades following the dissolution of the regime, thousands of Cambodian families are experiencing a new wave of displacement. By talking with locals on the island of Koh Sralau, Mam found out that since 2007, the government of Cambodia has granted several private companies concessions to mine the country’s coastal mangrove forests. Each year, millions of metric tons of Cambodian sand are shipped to Singapore to expand that island nation’s landmass; Singapore has imported more than 80 million tons of sand so far. According to Mam, “The people and all the living creatures that depend on these forests for their livelihood are forced to cope with this massive loss.” In addition to displacing those who live and work on that land, Cambodia is also destroying its only natural barrier against erosion, rising sea levels, tsunamis, and hurricanes.