Rising Salinity Threatens Rice Crops on Southeast Asia’s Sinking Coast

Prak Nhorn has no hope for his rice crop this year.

“When I transplant seedlings, they die out. The salt is still in the soil,” said the farmer from Slab Ta Aon village, a riverside settlement roughly 150 kilometers southwest of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and 4 kilometers from the green, mangrove-lined coast of Kampot province.

The farmer said that saltwater has destroyed rice paddies in Slab Ta Aon village for the past two years. Prak Nhorn, 55, doubts that he and the other villagers will be able grow rice in the future.

Slab Ta Aon’s problem is no environmental fluke. It is an omen of a global environmental crisis that has been brewing for decades, destabilizing food systems that feed millions.

Around the world, saltwater is seeping further and further inland from the coasts, tainting soils and fresh water with salt. A complicated interplay between groundwater extraction, river damming for hydropower, and riverbed mining is sinking shorelines as climate change raises the seas, drawing seawater inland.

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Elise Cutts