Inaugural Water Falling Festival on 8th of December 2018 at Tonlé Sap Lake

inaugural water falling festival on 8th of december 2018 at tonlé sap lake


by Heike Finsterlin

The Tonle Sap Lake, 55km outside of Siem Reap and 130km north of Phnom Penh, spreads over a region of 2,700 sq km and is due to its annual flood cycle a crucial part of the Cambodian ecosystem. During the dry season the water of the Tonlé Sap Lake is sinking up to 12m, leaving behind productive land for planting vegetables and rice which is essential for the nutrition of the villages along the lake. Yet, with the vanishing water the plastic pollution of the lake becomes visible, leaving behind plastic waste in the villages, in the scrubs and allover the mangroves. In some areas during dryseason the trees in the mangroves resemble Christmas trees .. with the sad difference of lametta being replaced by plastic bags.

So, the pollution from surrounding towns and the habit of fishermen using the body of water as a dumping ground for spent equipment, made one of the world’s most productive freshwater fisheries an massive garbage dump, affecting Cambodia’s ecosystem, resulting in loss of quality fish habitat, and finally cutting the lifeline for the many villages around the lake.

The alarming pictures of the Tonlé Sap after water “falling”, prevailed Sophal from NGO2 and Doug from Ocean Recovery Alliance to the idea of initiating a “Water Falling Festival” – a festival to raise awareness for plastic pollution, motivating people to clean-up in the villages along Tonlé Sap Lake, and to last but not least try to change people’s habits of dumbing plastic in the lake and destroying their own source of life. Exactly the kind of event we at Pssbl like and want to support. Thus, Marc and Heike from Pssbl joined the preparations beginning of December and joined Sophal from NGO2 in preparing the festival with manpower and financial support.

The main part of the festival was planned to happen in Kampong Khleang, the largest community of fishing villages in Siem Reap province, with a large part of the villagers living on boats in floating villages. These villages are home to more than 10,000 people, with many of them living here for generations already.

We planned the event together with Sophal and the village chief of Kampong Khleang, and it was evident for all of us, that the event was meant to have a long-term impact on the village. Combing the raise of awareness with cleaning-up, as well as education and the setting up of processes and infrastructure to stop the plastic flood in the years to come. So, one of the things Pssbl implemented together with the villagers ahead of the Water Falling Festival, was a plastic-free zone around the community center, along with a recycling hub as a place to sort and store the plastic garbage collected, to have a basic infrastructure.

During the preparations it became already obvious, that the event will be much bigger than what we originally planned and hoped for. The excitement and the engagement of the villagers was unbelievable! We planned with around 200 people from the villages joining the clean-up, and at the end it was more than 1,000 people, nearly 100 boats, and everybody was excited and ambitious to help cleaning and collecting plastic. With the amazing result of collecting nearly 11 tons of plastic on one single day!

The event was lined with environmental talks, explanations from the environmental department about collecting, dividing and correct re-cycling of garbage – and the motivation to change something and keep the village clean became omni-present.

And of course, a big after-cleanup party to celebrate the amazing day with a big BBQ, traditional games and dances and many happy faces!

For Marc and me, it was a great experience to be part of this. It gave us the feeling to be on the right track with what we do, and showed us again “It’s Pssbl to make a difference!”

We’re looking forward to see this grow and are already excited to join the Water Rising Festival in June 2019 to have a last “big village clean” before the water is coming back – and washes away everything!