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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Climate change hits home

Climate change hits home

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Children make the best of a bad situation as villagers paddle through a flooded street in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

Cambodia's deadly floodwaters, storms and droughts are the result of global climate change, Minister for Environment Mok Mareth told the Second National Forum on Climate Change yesterday.

“In the last year, many countries in the world, including Cambodia, have frequently encountered natural disasters intensified by the impact of climate change,” Mok Mareth said, adding that Cambodia had already seen increases in temperature and rainfall, and that the trend was predicted to continue.

With flooding claiming almost 150 lives over the past month, and destroying the crops of thousands of farmers, the impact of climate change was a palpable concern for speakers at the forum. They included United Nations resident coordinator Douglas Broderick and Ministry of Environment director-general Chay Samith, who opened the three-day conference in the capital.

“Cambodia is a country suffering from natural disasters as a result of climate change,” Chay Samith said. “Cambodia has experienced more severe floods, droughts and storms, which have had severe impacts on livelihoods and caused serious damage to property and crops,” he told the more than 700 people who had gathered for the forum.

Broderick said “Cambodia is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts”, and noted that flooding and drought, which are both linked to climate change, are major contributors to poverty.

Tin Ponlock, a conservation expert at the Ministry of Environment, said Cambodia had seen more intense rainfall patterns over the last 40 years and that this trend was expected to continue.

Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly said climate change had seriously impacted agriculture, the economy and the poor. “This year flooding destroyed over 80,000 hectares of rice crops and about 500 people are believed to have died,” he said.

The official death toll currently stands at 148. Keo Vy, cabinet chief of the Natural Committee for Disaster Management, could not be reached yesterday to confirm the numbers.

Chan Youtha, cabinet chief at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, said floodwaters would continue to rise up to 0.5 meters in the Mekong River over the next few days due to heavy rains in Thailand and Laos, but they should begin receding from Thursday.

He said it was “difficult to confirm whether [this year’s flooding] was directly related to climate change”.

However, the official position of Cambodia and the UN was made clear at the forum when the Cambodia Human Development Report 2011, which was published early last month, was distributed again at the opening.

“Climate change can no longer be denied or simply ignored. It is real, it is happening now, and it is as much a human development issue as it is an environmental issue,” the report says on its title page.

The report was published jointly by the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the United Nations Development Program.

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