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How women in Cambodia’s floating villages are adapting to climate change

A project to empower women in Cambodia is helping vulnerable communities adapt to the climate crisis

A project to empower women in Cambodia is helping vulnerable communities adapt to the climate crisis

It might sound idyllic to some, living by the gentle rhythm of the current. But for inhabitants of the floating villages of Pursat, Cambodia, life on the Tonlé Sap river can be tough. Employment opportunities that exist on dry land are often unavailable to water-dwelling locals, and one that is – fishing – is threatened by the climate crisis.

“There are frequent, long storms which mean we cannot go out to do the fishing,” explains Ol Pheap, 41, a fisherwoman from the village of Kompong Knie. “We can catch about one or two kilos only, and sometimes we don’t catch any fish at all. Because there is so much wind, our equipment moves away and it’s so difficult to bring it back home.”

The dry seasons are equally challenging. “[They] are lasting seven months, which is unusual,” said Pheap. “When there is a dry season like that, the water recedes so far out that we have to move our equipment and boats [far away]. And it takes about three or four hours just to do that.”

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Identified as one of the countries most at risk from the climate emergency, Cambodia also ranks a lowly 103rd on the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index. Given that the climate crisis disproportionately impacts women, the charity ActionAid decided to launch a campaign to help Cambodian women adapt.

The campaign, She is the Answer, supports communities to become more resilient by training women to take up climate-adaptive livelihoods. The work is underpinned by research that has shown female empowerment to be one of the most effective solutions at our disposal in tackling global heating.

One of ActionAid’s projects is located in the village of Oakol, where the charity helped set up a floating garden for locals to harvest vegetables, such as cabbage and peppers. The produce is distributed among the community and surplus veggies are sold to people in neighbouring villages. Ol Pheap is one of the women who has been trained to tend the garden. Keng, 34, another.

'People used to believe that no vegetables could grow in this village,' says Keng. Image: ActionAid

“People used to believe that no vegetables or gardens could grow in this village because it is on the water,” explains Keng, who said that the garden generates about 10,000 to 15,000 Cambodian riels per day (about £1.78 to £2.68). This, she adds, compared favourably with fishing.

“There aren’t many challenges with the floating garden; the main issue is that rats sometimes come and destroy it,” she says.

According to Keng, the floating garden has increased the consumption of vegetables in the village and improved community health. Receiving training and support from ActionAid, she adds, helped her to become more sufficient.

“I feel like I’m no longer a woman who only knows how to do one thing,” she says. “I know how to grab opportunities and I can now share those life skills with other people.”

The floating garden has increased the consumption of vegetables locally. Image: ActionAid

Keng is part of the burgeoning Women Champions network, which helps give Cambodian women a voice when vital decisions are being made at community and government level. The project is also run by ActionAid.

“Our Women Champions programme provides women in Cambodia with the training, skills and confidence they need to play a decisive part in planning the future of their communities, and of our country,” said the charity’s Samphy Eng.

ActionAid has trained around 50 women across the country, equipping them with climate science knowledge and supporting them to play an active role in decision-making. As well as planting mangroves to help protect villages from storms, the women promote sustainable farming methods and create floating schools where future generations are taught about climate resilience.

“In countless ways, large and small, they are shaping the world in good directions, which is wonderful to see,” said Eng.

Main image: ActionAid

This article is published in partnership with ActionAid to help raise awareness of their new campaign, She Is The Answer, which empowers women in Cambodia to have a voice in the face of the climate emergency.

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