Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 413–432 | Cite as

Socio-Economic Changes in Cambodia’s Unique Tonle Sap Lake Area: A Spatial Approach

  • Aura Salmivaara
  • Matti Kummu
  • Olli Varis
  • Marko Keskinen


Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake will see major environmental changes due to the Mekong hydropower development. These changes have remarkable societal impacts, as the society is tightly connected with the physical geography through the lake’s unique flood pulse. Understanding the connections between water and livelihoods is, however, challenging due to the exceptional nature of the area and the gap between demographic and environmental information. As a result, the socio-economic drivers have been less analysed than the environmental changes. We addressed this research gap by assessing the status quo and recent trends in the area’s socio-economic setting with a spatial approach. The approach enabled presenting these trends and their linkages to the physical environment in a way that conventional, administrative boundaries-bound assessments are not able to do. We found that the economic activity structure changed relatively modestly between 1998 and 2008, with the proportions of the workforce within fishing and agriculture slowly decreasing. Yet, due to population growth, there was a significant increase of 140,000 people in these sectors. Our approach illustrated the spatial heterogeneity of the key socio-economic trends, underlining the significant changes occurred particularly in Siem Reap. The results also revealed an on-going ‘youth wave’ that brings a major demographic challenge – but also an opportunity – for both urban and rural areas and also puts additional pressure on natural resources. When planning the future development in the area, the demographic transition and key socio-economic trends must be considered hand in hand with the expected environmental impacts of hydropower development and climate change.


Spatial analysis Population census Socio-economic data Zoning Flood pulse Tonle Sap Mekong Region 



Our analysis forms a part of 2-year ‘Exploring Tonle Sap Futures’ (ETSF) project ( that looked at the interconnections between hydrology and livelihoods in the context of water-energy-food-climate nexus. The project formed one case study for a regional, CSIRO-led ‘Exploring Mekong Region Futures’ program. The ETSF project was implemented by a research consortium consisting of Aalto University, 100Gen Ltd., Hatfield Consultants Partnership and Institute of Technology of Cambodia, complemented with the work by EIA Ltd. and VU University Amsterdam. The governmental partners of the project were the Tonle Sap Authority (TSA) and the Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC) (Keskinen et al. 2013; Smajgl et al. 2011). The authors would like to thank all the colleagues who contributed to our work, in particular Pech Sokhem, Someth Paradis, John Ward and Alex Smajgl as well as H.E. So Sophort and Tony Hell from TSA. Thank you also to our other wonderful colleagues at Aalto University’s Water & Development Research Group. Finally we are very thankful for the anonymous reviewers who invested time and effort in the review that contributed to improving our manuscript enormously.

In addition to the ETSF project funding, AS received funding from the VALUE Doctoral School and Aalto University Fund, MKu from post-doctoral funds of Aalto University, and MKe & AS from Academy of Finland project 133748.

Supplementary material

12061_2015_9157_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (9.7 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 9922 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aura Salmivaara
    • 1
  • Matti Kummu
    • 1
  • Olli Varis
    • 1
  • Marko Keskinen
    • 1
  1. 1.Water & Development Research Group, Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringAalto UniversityEspooFinland

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