Supporting urban poor’s women leadership to respond to lake and wetland’s in-filling practices and urban dispossession in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2020)

Dr Johanna Brugman Alvarez, University of Queensland, Australia

Image: Infilling of a wetland ecosystem in Phnom Penh © Dr Johanna Brugman Alvarez

Project summary

Cambodia is a country with a ‘disjointed’ form of governance in which state-private alliances by-pass any form of urban legislation in governing its resources in an equitable way. Since 2003, over 60% of Phnom Penh’s lakes and more than 40% of wetlands have been in-filled by developers, leading to flooding, pollution and loss of fishing breeding grounds. Forced evictions of urban poor families have occurred resulting in a loss of livelihoods, connections to place, and rights to land and water. Urban poor communities, many led by women, have organised to respond to the increasing threats of dispossession caused by in-filling practices. These citizenship practices are not fully documented or understood, and face a risk of not being properly supported by civil society organisations and funding agencies.

Using a gender lens, this research aims to produce knowledge on the meaning and responses of urban poor women to lake and wetlands’ in-filling practices in Phnom Penh, and use this knowledge to better inform how support is given to women to lead community-based responses to these particular forms of dispossession. It also intends to showcase photographs and oral narratives of these community leaders to create awareness within local and international audiences on the environmental and social issues arising from this landscape development.

Lakes and wetlands in-filling practices in Phnom Penh have not only had detrimental environmental impacts on this city, but also directly impacts on the rights to land, water and citizenship of urban poor communities. This issues is a clear example of urban injustices
currently experienced in the global south, where power inequalities are visibly manifested in the urban landscape, demonstrating the ramifications of who has voice, power and responsibility, and how by justice, democracy and citizenship are exercised.

The funding from LRG will allow travel to Phnom Penh to conduct the ethnographic fieldwork.

Image: Group of people walking in the former lake © Dr Johanna Brugman Alvarez
Image: Infilling of wetland ecosystem in Phnom Penh © Dr Johanna Brugman Alvarez