Friday, June 6, 2008

A million Cambodians live on a lake?

Apparently, if you believe the Christian Science Monitor (and I'm not entirely sure that I do on this one), there's a river/lake in Cambodia – Tonlé Sap – that is home to one million people. And by "is home to," I mean they live on the water. The article is about global warming's impact on the residents, but I'm amazed at the simple fact that so many people live their lives floating on a body of water.

The article on the caption above gives the most tantalizing hint, saying: "Living on water: Tonle Sap Lake’s 1 million residents have floating homes, schools, and even gas stations." The subtitle mentions the "1 million floating residents of the Tonle Sap Lake." The body of the text begins with a cute quote from Nam Lai, a carpenter with a houseboat, who says, "I have to move the house farther and farther from the shore." Okay, so, there are a million people floating on a lake in Cambodia, according to the CSM. But, I can't find any other corroboration of that number. The BBC gave a number of around a million, but that wasn't for residents of the lake – it was for people who "depend on it directly for their livelihoods," a number that would presumably include fishermen and people who did commerce around the lake, and not just those who slept a couple feet above the water. According to the UN Development Programme, "about 1.2 million Cambodians live in the area of maximum flooding around Tonle Sap," and "[a] quarter of them live in 170 floating villages on the lake or on the floodplain, in houses built on poles." So even giving the CSM the benefit of the doubt and including people who live on houses built on poles in the floodplain, that's 400,000 Cambodians – a far cry from the CSM's one million. Either the lake's population more than doubled in the last three years, the UN has bad numbers, or the CSM has a lazy reporter and shitty fact-checkers. I suspect the latter.

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