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Asia Times - The Destruction Of Cambodia's Forests

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hatrack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Nov-23-04 08:43 AM
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Asia Times - The Destruction Of Cambodia's Forests
Newspapers in Cambodia are always flush with stories directly and indirectly related to the logging industry in that country. In one region there has been massive flooding, blamed by most experts on massive deforestation, while in Ratanakiri and Kandal provinces there has been a drought, as the dry season has come early and is threatening the rice crop. The toll of such environmental peculiarities is especially harsh on the people of Cambodia, where more than 80% of the population lives in rural areas and 36% lives in extreme poverty, earning less than 50 US cents per day. Yet deforestation is such a part of the politics and economy in Cambodia that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse these trends. Pressures on the forests come from every direction: displaced villagers, corrupt government officials lining their pockets with proceeds from illegal logging, other countries that have banned logging within their own borders and demand that Cambodia do the same and land speculators.

The stories have appeared with increased frequency of late. But with a new government and a concession system endorsed by the World Bank in place, there is no immediate imperative to do anything about the problem, especially since those most affected have the least say in deal making. The Cambodia Daily, the largest English-language paper in Phnom Penh, routinely reports on conflicts between villagers and logging companies. Recently the paper detailed the plight of villagers whose livelihoods were threatened by a land concession to the giant firm Pheapimex for a paper-pulp plantation. One farmer was quoted as saying, "If we lose that land, it means we lose our jobs."

Local and state authorities pay lip-service to the needs of the poorest of the poor, which number so many in Cambodia. Governors promise to address concerns, but often fail to appear for scheduled meetings. In the above instance, villagers were upset that the governor of Pursat province didn't show up as promised to listen to their complaints and broker a compromise between the villagers and Pheapimex. Later on an unidentified assailant lobbed a grenade into a crowd of villagers assembled to protest against the logging company, injuring at least 10, three severely. Police have indicated that they intend to arrest a suspect soon, suggesting that the attack was orchestrated by the villagers themselves to draw sympathy for their plight.


Another recent development is the granting of concessions to log and develop protected areas. This week construction began on a golf course and theme park within the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kompong Speu province. This project entails deforestation for development, a common excuse for logging. Kampong Speu is one of the most drought-affected provinces in Cambodia, and Environmental Minister Mok Mareth had earlier this year mentioned the possibility of water shortages associated with the project. Still, work goes on. In another case, Green Rich, a Taiwanese firm, broke ground on a large plantation in Botum Sakor National Park earlier this year. Environmental groups and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) contend that the approval process was illegal, arguing that it violates the 1993 royal decree on protected areas. Green Rich, along with another company, currently are lobbying for a huge concession in an ecologically fragile area in southwest Cambodia. Green Rich maintains that its plantation is ecologically sound and that it is committed to reforestation through plantations. But according to Dr Glen Barry, president of US-based, a conservation organization that closely tracks forestry developments in Cambodia, "Plantations are not forests. There is no biodiversity and you lose all the other services that are provided by natural forests," he explained. Creating plantations also exacerbates the existing problem of illegal logging in protected areas, but, as Barry pointed out, "even the legal logging is questionable legally." For example, Global Witness, a UK-based NGO that was officially tapped by the Cambodian government and donor community to monitor logging until it was fired by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2002, has documented large piles of illegal logs in Virachey National Park in Ratanakiri. The park was supposed to be under close supervision; the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) gave the Ministry of Environment nearly US$5 million to manage and protect the park over the period from 2002-05."


Long, important article.
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