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Lost Lands

Andy Ball (UK)

Across Cambodia, extraction barges mine sand from the Mekong River to feed a construction boom that has transformed the capital’s skyline. However, Cambodia’s appetite for sand has also become a paradox: it’s a crucial ingredient in rapid development, but it’s also come at a cost for communities whose lives are intensely dependent on the Mekong.

Scientists have warned that excessive sand mining is increasing the likelihood of the Mekong’s banks collapsing and inducing shrinkage of the Tonle Sap lake, the world’s largest inland fishery. At the local level, mining is increasing competition for space on the river as communities share their fishing grounds with networks of extraction barges. Families living on the capital’s surrounding lakes and wetlands – many of which have already been filled in by sand for real estate projects – have either been evicted or will be.

Cambodia’s intense appetite for sand poses the need for foresight when balancing short-sighted economic gains with environmental and community impacts on a river already on a knife-edge.

This project was made as part of a collaboration with researchers at the University of Southampton.


Andy Ball is a Cambodia based photographer and videographer with an interest in covering stories that revolve around the cross-section between society and the environment. Alongside working on documentaries for the BBC and Insider, his photos have been published in The New York Times, South China Morning Post, dpa, Mongabay, and others.