One positive Khmer Rouge legacy: canals

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The Khmer Rouge canals have come back to life.

By the time the brutal government of Pol Pot was toppled three decades ago, 1.7 million Cambodians were dead from overwork, starvation and disease, and the country was a ruin.

But the forced labor of millions of Cambodians left behind something useful — or that is how the current government here sees it.

The Khmer Rouge leaders were obsessed with canals, embankments and dams. They presided over hundreds of irrigation projects to revive the country’s glorious but perhaps mythical past of an agrarian wonderland.

“There has never been a modern regime that placed more emphasis and resources towards developing irrigation,” wrote Jeffrey Himel, a water resource engineer, in a recent study of Cambodia’s irrigation system.

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