PRIME Minister Hun Sen has ordered authorities to destroy manmade reservoirs around the Tonle Sap lake and ban farmers from raising crops and animals in the surrounding ecologically sensitive flooded forest areas.
The government last year ordered that all reservoirs surrounding the lake be destroyed, but relented after local farmers pleaded with authorities to allow them to cultivate rice for one more dry season. On Tuesday, Hun Sen ordered authorities to proceed with dismantling any remaining reservoirs.
“Now, it is time for us to recheck these problems and take measures to destroy the water reservoirs,” Hun Sen said in a speech Tuesday, the final day of an annual Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries meeting.
Farmers say the reservoirs are needed to irrigate their crops.
Hun Sen acknowledged that a ministry report released Tuesday showed that the reservoirs boosted crop yields, with farmers enjoying a yield of 5 tonnes of rice paddy per hectare this past dry season – the national average is just above 2.6 tonnes per hectare, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
However, the premier said authorities must weigh the short-term gains against longer-term environmental damage . Authorities say the reservoirs impact fish habitats, jeopardising a resource that represents the Kingdom’s main source of protein.
“I cannot accept any explanation that will lead the water in the Tonle Sap lake to be become shallow in the future,” Hun Sen said.
Water resources have also become an issue for Cambodia and its neighbours along the Mekong River.
Some conservationists have said that dam projects in China are responsible for unusually low water levels this year.
However, Hun Sen, who returned this week from a summit of the Mekong River Commission in Thailand, reiterated the position of Cambodian authorities that the low levels have been caused by “global climate change”.
“They should blame the angel or God, not China,” Hun Sen said in his speech.