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Large-scale environmental degradation results in inequitable impacts to already impoverished communities: A case study from the floating villages of Cambodia

  • Glenn Althor
  • Simon Mahood
  • Bradd Witt
  • Rebecca M. Colvin
  • James E.M. Watson
Research Article


Cambodian subsistence communities within the Tonle Sap Great Lake area rely on resource extraction from the lake to meet livelihood needs. These fishing communities—many of which consist of dwellings floating on the lake—face potentially profound livelihood challenges because of climate change and changing hydrology due to dam construction for hydroelectricity within the Mekong Basin. We conducted interviews across five village communities, with local subsistence fisher people in the Tonle Sap in 2015, and used thematic analysis methods to reveal a fishery system that is undergoing rapid ecological decline, with local fishing communities increasingly experiencing reductions in available fish stocks. As a result, over 100 000 people living in these communities are experiencing a direct loss of well-being and livelihood. We discuss these losses and consider their implications for the future viability of Cambodian floating village communities.


Climate change Distributive justice Human well-being Mekong basin Subsistence livelihoods Tonle Sap Great Lake 



We would like to extend thanks to the following people whose contributions made this project possible. Gnuen Gneb, for providing translation services in the field and for very patiently acting as a cultural guide. The village and commune chiefs for their time, patience, and critical input into this project. All participants and their families who took the time to speak to us, and very kindly host us within their homes during interviews. Very kind thanks to Phien Sayon, and the entire Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia team for their amazing support and facilitation of this project. Special thanks to Mr Long Kheng, Chief of the TSBR and Mr Sun Visal, from the Department of Freshwater Wetlands, Ministry of Environment, and the staff of the Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. This work was part funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP140100733) to JW. Additional funding by The Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship to GA (PN: 3018293). Funding for translation work provided by WCS, Cambodia.

Author Contributions

G.A., designed the analysis, performed all fieldwork, and analysed results. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Supplementary material

13280_2018_1022_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1651 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of QueenslandQueenslandAustralia
  2. 2.Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia ProgramPhnom PenhCambodia
  3. 3.Research Institute for the Environment and LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  4. 4.Climate Change InstituteAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.Global Conservation ProgramWildlife Conservation SocietyBronxUSA

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