|Destruction of Prey Lang (Photo: Uon Chhin, RFA)|
Floodings are no longer the predominant preserve of those living in the rural regions. Many homes in the capital Phnom Penh like this one is inundated with rising, highly toxic water surge, bringing with it water borne diseases that put already vulnerable human lives at a higher state of sanitation risk - School of Vice
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Op-Ed by MP
The fate of Prey Lang, perhaps, like much else in this tragic land that stands pure, born free out of nature’s maternal womb, attains to a stage of recognisable, innocent beauty and form only to be snatched away to be robbed and raped off life and substance. Beauty, it is said, is present everywhere, yet not everyone perceives it. “Keep meditating, Bhikku, until you see beauty in every blade of grass!”
Of course, I made up the latter quote, but I hope spiritually awakened souls could see what I am getting at here.
It is encouraging that some people are calling for Prey Lang to be granted World Heritage status. In fact, it would be a good idea if all of Cambodia itself is listed as a World Heritage site so that it can be better protected from rapacious forces of greed and blind commercialism!
It is one thing to want to increase financial capital through foreign investment, but the current trend of wholesale destruction of forests and coastal regions (commercialised shrimp "farming", sand dredging etc) cannot be regarded as sustainable developments that yield benefits for present generations or dividends for future ones.
People in Cambodia have been experiencing some of the adverse effects of ecological imbalance such as marked changes in overall climatic condition: it's a lot hotter in a traditionally "humid" sub-tropical climate; rising flood water level which in many villages ruins or drowns crops and plants submerged too long in water, and in towns or cities like Phnom Penh with inadequate sewage systems, widespread ailments contracted through water contamination; monsoon storms and hurricanes ravage everything in their paths with no trees or forests to act as impact absorbents; top soil erosions caused by torrential rain and flooding in areas that have become exposed as a result of deforestations, and so forth. All of this directly damages rural as well as urban lives, but rural people maybe the most severely affected by such disasters, being obviously more exposed to the natural elements. They also constitute around 85 percent of Cambodia’s population.
Until now there has been no concrete political will on the part of central authorities to reverse this depressing trend. Cambodia needs to learn from the mistakes and excesses committed by other developing countries before her rather than outdoing them in this regard. Forests like Prey Lang are vital for all peoples in the region, not only for the ethnic communities to whom the forests are their worlds and habitats. With human population set to expand over the next decades, these dwindling natural ‘assets’ cannot possibly offer the country as its inexhaustible source of revenue, and if (as some government figures might point out in their defence) civil servants' salaries have to be paid out of their continued exploitation, then there will come a point when the salaries will not be paid once the sources of revenue themselves will have been irretrievably decimated.
Is this not obvious? That the natural world is limited in scope and exploitable utility? If we do not have alternative sources of revenue - say oil or tourism - do we have to commit ecological and national suicide first before looking for viable means and alternatives?
With Cambodia becoming increasingly multi-racial (some would say worryingly multi-racial!) it's not just the ethnic Khmers who are or will likely be feeling the 'heat' of the ecological-environmental melt-down. The damaging impact that a hydraulic dam in Vietnam has upon the Sesan River in North-Eastern Cambodia shows just how extensive and far-reaching an environmental disaster can be in its capacity to afflict the environment and human population. The Yali Falls Dam, completed in 2000, is located 70-80 kilometres from the Cambodia - Vietnam border. The International Rivers Network’s (IRN) briefing, based upon interviews with villagers, fishermen and district-level government officials in Cambodia reveals that:
- at least 36 people have drowned due to erratic releases of water from the dam;
- at least 55,000 people have been adversely affected; they have suffered millions of dollars in damages due to lost rice production, drowned livestock, lost fishing income, and damages to rice reserves, boats, fishing gear and houses;
- changes in the Se San River’s water levels and flow have caused a decline in fisheries and made fishing more difficult and hazardous. In addition, there has been an increase in river sedimentation and erosion, destroying riverbank vegetable gardens;
- hundreds of people have suffered stomach ailments, eye infections and skin rashes, which they believe are related to changes in the river’s water quality since the dam was built.
IRN notes that despite the unresolved issues, the government of Vietnam has embarked on an ambitious plan to build up to five more dams on the Sesan River.
Most likely, the majority of villagers living upstream by the same river in Vietnam are ethnic minorities like their cousins living downstream in Cambodia. If so, this may account for Vietnamese authorities' indifference towards the plight of these unfortunate communities. Just as they insist on having their cake and eat it with respect to land concessions in Cambodia, which have been granted at tragic expense of all Cambodians. Whatever the reasons maybe, both the Vietnamese authorities and their Cambodian counterparts will need to re-think their priorities and motives that fuel this senseless mismanagement of primary forests in Cambodia.
Pressure groups working with responsible personalities in and outside of government must keep this issue alive by lobbying relevant institutions and by raising public awareness through education and demonstrations. The preservation of these threatened pockets of green spaces could be, nay is, one of the keys to national revival and rehabilitation; no less critical to the process of rebuilding and development than the campaign against human rights abuses, for instance.