Photographer's Note


To show you the true face of life here, I am sorry I must post this photo — not an illustration.

There is absolutely no bathroom, no restroom for the ethnic minority population of Vietnamese in Chong Kneas. Living a floating life, villagers empty all non-reusable items into Tonle Sap Great Lake. There are a total of 187 Vietnamese households with a population of 1,477 living here in such condition. Dead fishes, old clothes, soap and detergent, rotten foods and fruits, human waste. The same polluted and contaminated water in turn will be used as bath water, cooking water and drinking water. Don’t tell them about epidemic hygiene or sanitary. In their daily language, there aren’t terms like satellite, orbit, democracy, latrine, toilet paper. Their permanent concerns are religion, food and being cap yun (Khmer term for Kill the Viets). When I told the stories of Chong Kneas to my friends in the US, they laughed at my “glossy exaggeration”. I didn’t blame them, because I didn’t show them this picture taken of a mother washing her child after defecation.

Besides, the village is in the connecting route between tourist speedboats station and lake shore where hundreds of small boats become a heavy traffic. This kind of activity not only is harmful to villagers’ health, it also is hazardous for passengers, unhygienic for fish handling, and susceptible to oil and fuel spills. Liquid and solid wastes of all nature are disposed. The air is fetid with rotting organic detritus. Nonbiodegradable solid waste litters the shoreline and shallow waters. Floating communities are suffering from very high levels of poverty: about 60% of them survive on incomes of less than $0.50 per capita per day. They also are characterized by the widespread use of child labor, exposure to natural disasters, food insecurity, and high costs associated with repeated moving of homes in keeping with changes in the water levels in the lake.

Asian Development Bank concluded their studies that improvement of environmental conditions and reduction of poverty for the community at Chong Kneas are interrelated and strongly linked with improvement of living conditions for the dependent community. Their life on the water is one of extreme hardship and vulnerability. The community has requested of a permanent living area for the commune of Chong Kneas. Resettlement of the floating villages into houses on reclaimed land will facilitate the provision of clean water and sanitation, together with a range of other social services that so far have been denied to this community.

Tomorrow, we will continue to look backward to understand the background of their misery — starting with a document by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “The Problem of Statelessness” about these Vietnamese.


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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 471 W: 125 N: 2332] (8458)
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