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Cloud of soot threatens agriculture

A new report says a vast cloud of pollutants could disrupt weather, farming in Cambodia

A MASSIVE cloud of soot and pollution in the earth's atmosphere could threaten Cambodia's agriculture and economy and severely disrupt weather systems, according to a scathing report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

A team of scientists identified a three-kilometre-thick mass of manmade particles stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to China and the Pacific Ocean, which they say is "‘dimming" the earth's surface.

Cambodia is identified as a "regional hotspot" where the effects of the cloud will be felt most, said the report, which was released Thursday.

The report says that the cloud will severely affect weather patterns, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the earth's surface and raising levels of harmful gases that damage crops.

Economic impact

Agriculture is Cambodia's largest employer and income generator, and damage to the sector would hit the Kingdom's economy hard.

Conservationists also fear the flow of the Mekong and Bassac rivers could be affected by changes in global weather patterns.

No figures for Cambodia were available, but the report said that losses in South Korea and China could reach US$5 billion per year.

Achim Steiner of UNEP said the cloud was the result of "unsustainable burning of fossil fuels, inefficient combustion of biomass and deforestation".

Although Cambodia's fossil fuel emissions are small compared with regional neighbours, the country's forests are being cut down at an alarming pace, say conservationists.

The last survey on Cambodia's forests by the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that 29 percent of Cambodia's primary forests - accounting for a total of 322,000 hectares - had been lost between 2000 and 2005.

More than three billion people across Asia could be affected by lower food yields and health side effects, the report says.

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