"If Cambodia's donors want the country's natural resources to be managed in a way which benefits the Cambodian people, then they must confront high-level corruption which underpins the sector," Nichol's said
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2009 04:08:27 -0700 (PDT)
Government efforts to say forest coverage up slammed as greenwash by
Written by Bennett Murray
Monday, 01 June 2009
Other natural resources also at risk of exploitation as Cambodia’s
forests are decimated
RECENT government claims that Cambodia is nearing its Millennium
Development Goal of maintaining 60 percent of forest coverage by 2010
have been dismissed by environmental groups concerned over
uncontrolled exploitation of the precious resource.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture's annual report released in
April, more than 6 million trees were planted in Cambodia between 2004
and 2008, and Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun said that
number is set to increase.
"We will grow and distribute 10 million trees to people throughout the
country ... and encourage tree planting on 10,000 hectares of land,"
he told the Post in April.
UK-based NGO Global Witness, a frequent critic of the the Cambodian
government over its environmental record, hotly contests the claim.
"Investigative work by Global Witness over the last decade has
revealed widespread illegal exploitation of natural resources in
Cambodia and a worrying lack of transparency at the highest levels,"
Global Witness campaigner Eleanor Nichol said in an email.
In 2007, Global Witness published a report - "Cambodia's Family Tree"
- that exposed top-level corruption in resource harvesting and was
subsequently banned in Cambodia.
It alleged that Cambodia's logging industry is heavily intertwined
with the government via family and other personal connections and
recommended that Cambodia's judicial authorities investigate the
activities of Ty Sokhun and Chan Sarun, minister of agriculture,
forestry and fisheries. "Cambodia's most powerful logging syndicate is
led by relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior
officials," the report said.
The same political elite who squandered the country’s timber resources
are now ... managing its mineral and petroleum wealth.
A recent report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation also
highlights the gap between government claims and the reality in the
country's forests. According to the report, Cambodia's primary
tropical forest coverage fell 29 percent between 2000 and 2005 from
456,000 to 322,000 hectares. In 1990, Cambodia had 766,000 hectares of
primary forest, the report said.
Global Witness said the real losses may be higher, as artificial
plantations may sometimes be counted as natural forests in surveys.
"Plantations are not natural and have few if any of the ecosystem
benefits provided by natural forests," Nichol said.
"They are, in effect, agricultural crops. The inclusion of plantations
in forest cover assessments can mask a decline in natural forest cover
if plantations are on the increase."
Hit from both ends
But not all of Cambodia's deforestation is driven by powerful
Cambodians, said Mathieu Van Rijn, the manager of the forestry unit at
GERES, a French environmental NGO.
Part of the problem was rural farmers who make and sell charcoal in
order to supplement their incomes during the dry season, he said.
"You have to think about people who have almost no income during a
certain period of time [each] year," he said, adding that GERES was
working in rural areas to encourage sustainable charcoal
To do so, GERES has encouraged Cambodians to use the Yoshimuru Kiln to
produce charcoal, which requires 30 percent less wood than traditional
kilns, and to cook using the new Lao stove, which burns up to 22
percent less fuel than traditional stoves.
"You try to lower demand, and on the other side you try to supply what
is needed in the new situation," Van Rijn said.
As GERES helps Cambodians to reduce their consumption of wood, Global
Witness (which has been barred from Cambodia since 2005) continues to
maintain that the greatest threat to Cambodian forests lies in
government sanctioned, illegal logging schemes and other illegal land
But according to its February report "Country For Sale", the problem
of corruption in allocating natural resource concessions isn't limited
to timber. "The same political elite who squandered the country's
timber resources are now responsible for managing its mineral and
petroleum wealth," the report said.
"Like high-value timber, these resources are a one-off opportunity.
Once they are gone, they are gone forever."
At least six out of 23 protected areas in Cambodia had some form of
mining activity as of February 2009, Global Witness said. One,
Mondulkiri province, has had 282,700 hectares, or 21 percent its
protected area, allocated to mining concessions.
The Cambodian embassy in the UK issued a press release in response to
the report accusing Global Witness of "pursuing a malicious campaign
to try and discredit the country and its leaders" and insisted that
the government was handling its resources responsibly.
"The Government is working hard to establish a sound and comprehensive
framework governing the extractive industries," it said. "These will
reflect best practice and be based on the principles of transparency
Given the government's track record, Nichol said action needed to be
taken by donor governments. "If Cambodia's donors want the country's
natural resources to be managed in a way which benefits the Cambodian
people, then they must confront high-level corruption which underpins
the sector," Nichol's said.
"At a minimum, they must link all non-humanitarian aid to reforms that
will make the government more accountable to the country's citizens.
They can start by insisting that a credible anti-corruption law -
which the government has been stalling for over a decade now - is
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