New York Times Op-Doc Shows Buddhist Monks Helping Cambodia’s Imperiled Chong People

Screenshot from Kalyanee Mam's New York Times op-doc "A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacred Forests."

Screenshot from Kalyanee Mam’s New York Times op-doc “A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacred Forests.”

If you’re going to watch one thing today, watch this.

At the New York Times‘ website, award-winning filmmaker Kalyanee Mam describes her short film “A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacred Forests,” the latest op-doc for the paper, this way:

In southwest Cambodia, at the foot of the Cardamom Mountains, is a single dirt road that meanders through the heart of the pristine Areng valley. Ten miles down this road, villagers have set up an encampment to stop a hydroelectric dam project that they fear will destroy their forests, livelihood and heritage.

The Chong people, who are considered Khmer Daem (or original Khmers), have lived in this valley for over 600 years. They grow rice, forage for roots and mushrooms, and fish in the streams and river. In March, a group of young monks traveled over 150 miles from Phnom Penh, the capital, to help them in their campaign to protect the forest, which they consider sacred.

The Cambodian government intends to build a network of 17 dams, hoping that they will generate enough electricity to meet domestic demand, reduce energy costs and export surplus energy abroad. This goal of transforming Cambodia into the power plant of Southeast Asia may promise economic gain, but as this Op-Doc video shows, it also entails significant costs.

The Areng dam would be built by Sinohydro, China’s largest hydropower company. It would flood at least 26,000 acres – displacing over 1,500 people (whom the government plans to relocate to an undetermined area). The area is recognized as being rich in biodiversity; the dam would threaten the habitats of 31 endangered animals.

You can read more of her comments here. And you can watch the op-doc below.

For more on the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, who are featured in the op-doc, be sure to check out this article from the Southeast Asia Globe.

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