Pesticide poisoning was a major topic of concern at a three-day workshop on "Environment
and Development" held last month by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
and the Cambodian Environmental Action Team (CEAT).
A Ministry of Health doctor called for "immediate measures to counter the serious
problem" which has chronically affected some agricultural workers.
Dr Ung Pong said 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had written to the Minister
for Health calling for an investigation into insecticide poisoning.
This was just one of many concerns raised at the conference. Delegates concluded
that pressure to develop the Cambodian economy should be balanced against preserving
what remains of the country's rich natural environment.
Sustaining the rapidly expanding Cambodian population will be a race against time,
greed and need, said government and NGO participants.
Regional workshops reported a huge range of developmental problems portraying a rural
population on the very edge of survival. At issue were firewood shortages, hunger
and low-levels of education, especially among women.
Water-related problems included both drought and flooding caused by deforestation,
pollution of the Sangke River and the damage done to the rich fish spawning beds
in the Tonle Sap by Khmer Rouge gem mining along the Thai border around Pailin.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Mok Mareth, said in his closing address
that Cambodia needed the cooperation of many organizations.
"We need help, especially with pollution," he said voicing fears about
the effects of environmental degradation in Thailand.
He was optimistic about combating continuing forest destruction and worsening flooding
saying "the government will consider and solve this problem."
A number of studies on reforestation projects, water resources, high labor input
irrigation projects and urban and rural pollution were presented at the conference.
One message shared by numerous participants: villagers are already in tune with their
environment and respond well to constructive help. This leads them to create and
manage sustainable solutions to ecological problems.
Gordon Patterson of the Mennonite Central Committee said his organization came to
this conclusion after a year using this approach in a project to regenerate 1,600
hectares of degraded forest in Takeo.
"The village moved faster than we expected," he said. "It decided
to protect all the degraded forest, employing guards and growing trees around houses,
using cow dung that should have been going back to the paddy".
A similar emphasis in a Prey Veng energy-use study found after a year of discussions
that villagers moved from perceived short-term needs to considering long-term effects
such as destruction of trees.
It was found villagers were willing to invest time and effort to grow new trees specifically
CEAT plans to produce a "State of the Cambodian Environment" report based
on the conference's proceedings.