‘It can be pretty horrifying’: how Cambodia’s land grabs are ruining lives

The monk looks haggard in the midmorning sun, scanning the views through surrounding trees while chainsaws drone in the near distance.

“It’s as if a storm has come and the animals have fled like there has been a hurricane,” he says from his sparse, open-air pagoda in the woods. “Now everything is destroyed, I don’t see a reason why I should stay.”

With the early stages of a grey beard, the venerable Buddhist monk Prom Socheat draws in his orange robes as he tells of the loss of his home, where he has lived in hermitage for about 20 years in these once-dense tropical woodlands called the Metta forest, in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province.

But in August 2021, as Cambodia’s once-vast, formally protected woodlands continued to disappear at one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, the country’s environmental crises landed on the monk’s doorstep.

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Andrew Haffner