A MESSAGE FROM NORODOM SIHANOUK, KING OF CAMBODIA TO THE HONORABLE READERS OF THE
PHNOM PENH POST
I am infinitely grateful to the management of the Phnom Penh Post for giving me the
opportunity to express myself in its columms on the important problems raised by
the protection and preservation of our environment.
The preoccupation with the fight against damage to our eco-system could seem trivial
at a time when our Country, its Government and its People endeavour to take up the
challenge, which is considered with just cause a priority, of rebuilding our Cambodia
so afflicted, wounded and ravaged by many years of war.
And yet, development and ecology are, today, intimately linked. The fight against
degradations of the major ecosystems of our environment, which is often irreversible,
is today the number one preoccupation not only for ecologists but also for international
organisations, governments and citizens from all countries.
A planetary consciousness was born some years ago. It spread as a result of massive
ecological disasters, considering the scale of the 'price of progress' from our technological
civilisation. This awareness was concretised by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro
(Brasil) in 1992. Some recommendations and resolutions were then formulated. They
concern the governments of the entire world. In Geneva, in March 1996, World Nature
Fund, as an offshoot of the Rio conference, gathered representatives from 53 countries
to note that 4 years after the Rio Conference no decision had been made to stop forest
destruction on the planet.
According to M. Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, director of th WNF, deforestation has, since
then, accelerated. He estimated: "If this exploitation continues at the same
rate, most of the 3 million hectares of forest which still cover one third of the
planet's landmass, will disappear by the year 2040, BY THE MISTAKES OF SOME 'GHENGIS
KHAN' OF WOOD EXPLOITATION."
The massacre of our forests - the 'lung' of humanity - leads to, as well, the disappearance
of 50,000 animal species a year.
I also refer to the international convention on the fight against desertification,
adopted in Paris on 17 June 1994 and signed by 114 countries, including the European
Union and ratified by 25 states. This convention notes that desertification affects
a quarter of the earth's landmass; that arid areas cover a third of the Earth's land;
that 70% of 5.2 billion hectares of arid areas devoted to agriculture are already
damaged; that the continents lose each year around 24 billion tons of topsoil - that
is arable soils - and that in Asia, the desertification phenomenon of arids lands
has spread over 1.4 billion hectares.
The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that desertification costs the
world $42 billion each year. More than that there is the important human cost: means
of livelihood of one billion people are threatened and, aggravating the phenomenon,
135 million people will be effected soon. Desertification caused by savage, extensive,
uncontroled deforestation, linked to bad drainage in irrigation systems, which increases
ground salinity, is causing population movements, migrations and plays a decisive
role in the advent of armed conflicts.
How is our Cambodia concerned by this evolution, which, altogether with the serious
problems coming from air, water, land and food pollution, is pushing the Earth into
a massive and irreversible disaster jeopardizing the survival of humanity?
Our Kingdom used to have before the fateful March 1970 coup, large virgin reserves
of unviolated forests, lakes, and rivers, incomparable fauna and flora which made
up altogether a balanced bio-diversity.
During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, we (moreover) had to make decisions to preserve
our forests, prevent their massacre under the active control of the Office of National
Forests, protect the most threatened animal species: wild elephants, koupreys, etc,
and limit or ban the hunting of these species.
Since then, intensive deforestation, the progressive silting up of the Great Lake
(Tonle Sap), rivers and streams caused by lack of maintenance works and dredging,
but also sometimes, because of an "industrial" exploitation of our mineral
resources (eg: the thousands of tons of soil thrown into the Sangke river in Battambang
province by Khmer Rouge exploitation of Pailin gems), the systematic destruction
of wild animals, explosives and grenade fishing, the exploitation of juvenile fish
stocks are a threat as important or even more important than the surrounding insecurity
or our parochial political quarrels to the survival of our population, especially
in rural areas.
In its boundless misfortune, our Cambodia has at least one big advantage. As a country
rebuilding, it can and has to avoid the drift and mistakes previously made by others
by making sure to avoid rural migration to cities which would become slums, and the
hemmorage of our countryside by desertification; by eradicating and preventing all
that can be prejudicial to our population's health, well-being and vitality: food
and air pollution (according to the level of sulfur anhydride, carbon and nitrous
oxides), drinking water (by the use of pesticides and nitrates) etc.
As soon as I came back in my beloved homeland, I have never ceased to draw to the
attention to our responsible authorities, at all levels, the very serious threats
that these questionable practices are for our fragile ecological equilibrium.
I dealt with the most urgent matters first by denouncing several times deforestation,
by recommending rehabilitation of the existing dredging network, by supporting actively
Siem Reap-Angkor inscription on the World Patrimonial list, by working for the creation
of land reserves and national parks, etc. From now on the Great Lake and its environmental
preservation must be our priority. It is a survival issue for our fishermen, our
rice farmers and other local farmers. Once again, it is imperative that once decisions
are made and guidelines drawn they should be completly respected and followed.
I do know that forest exploitation has been a way to raise a sustainable part of
Sate ressources at a time when it really needed it and also permitted raising income
to several go-betweens, civilians or military, who are too often in surplus.
But, from now on, we do have other financial ressources and above all international
aid makes up for our serious financial deficit. International organisations, NGOs,
foreign countires which provide a diverse and balanced bilateral aid, already showed
us that they are ready to support our efforts under conditions that a real political
will exists on our side to turn our back on previous practices, to preserve what
still can by developing a concerted and consistent town and country planning process,
land and forest reserves, national parks, zoning, dredging lakes and rivers, and
the rehabilitation of irrigation networks etc.
I am convinced that a realization of these problems has also been born in our country,
noting the determination expressed recently by our Prime Ministers, Ministers, civil
servants, etc. to go in the field, mobilize teams for big or small public works in
the collective interest, in garbage collecting and public sanitation.
This movement must be supported, extended if we want to avoid our dear old Khmer
country turning into a desert so that the next generations criticize us with bitterness
- It will be too late! - "What did you start or carry out to avoid the disaster
you gave us as a legacy that we irreparably have to face for the next 50,000 years?"
Phnom Penh. 31 March 1996.
(Unofficial translation from French.)