“More and more people are concerned about water issues but they forget to protect the main source of water – the Mekong River!”
Raised in a low-income farming family along the Mekong river in Central-Eastern Cambodia, Chin Sokunthor, is a 60 year old woman farmer and river guardian. In every meeting or forum that she has attended, she never forgets to speak out about the love that she has for the river.
What disappoints her most is seeing people destroying her river, that she sees as the heart of her family and of other Mekong citizens. For her, the Mekong River is the lifeblood of millions of citizens. It provides water for drinking and growing food, as well as fish and transport.
Sokunthor has been involved as an activist and woman leader to advocate protecting the Mekong River since 2014, in the Oxfam Inclusion Project that aims to ensure inclusive decision making on how the river is managed. She actively takes part in a ‘Women on air’ radio program, to educate and raise awareness of the issues related to the Mekong and environmental and natural resources management, such as illegal fishing and hydroelectric dams.
Oxfam works with the local partners to train women along the Mekong River like Sokunthor on law and policy about the natural resources management. They help them make their voices heard on issues they know personally, such as illegal fishing or the Don Sahong dam.
“I want to be a role model for the next generation.”
On International Women’s Day 2016, Sokunthor was in Phnom Penh to attend the National Women Farmer Forum. She wanted to add her own perspective on the issues of water and the Mekong River. “I was selected to be a woman farmer champion because villagers trust in my ability to support them to improve their agriculture productivity and to deal with any related issues in the village, especially the issue of hydroelectric dam construction.”
“Currently the Mekong faces danger as its getting lower and more polluted, and this really affects the villagers’ health and livelihoods.”
Since the beginning of 2016, she has observed that the Mekong water levels were much lower. “Both fish and dolphins in the Mekong are at risk to vanish. The biggest issue causing this problem, I think, comes from the hydroelectric dams that were built upstream of the Mekong River.”
She wants the environmental impact assessment study to be properly conducted and its findings shared with villagers living along the river, so that all may understand the future consequences of the hydroelectric dams.
“I will urge the government to stop the dam construction. I will also mobilize villagers to submit their petitions to the government if new dams are planned, because I don’t want any bad things happening to our river, especially things that would badly harm the environment and species underneath the river like dolphins and fish.”
“I have a very strong hope in the women farmer forum because it is a platform to address and share issues and ideas. This forum also provides a space for woman farmers to build solidarity and learn about the problems of each other.”
In the past, Sokunthor says, women did not have power or rights to involve and participate in this kind of forum, but now it has changed. Women fully understand their rights and they can take part in any activities to protect their water resources. “What men can do, women also can.”
Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam
To know more about what Sokunthor has to say about the dangers faced by the Mekong river, see this video by Oxfam Cambodia.
On March 3rd 2016, Berta Cáceres, an Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader of the Lenca people, was brutally murdered for having taken a courageous stand to protect the land and natural resources her community depends on. Less than two weeks after Berta Cáceres was murdered, another land activist, Nelson García, was shot and killed for supporting Lenca people .
Join the fight and demand justice now! No more activists should pay with their lives for standing for their people’s rights! Sign the petition to stop the Agua Zarca dam project here: https://act.oxfam.org/international/end-the-violence