THE Fisheries Administration is planning to destroy 170 water reservoirs in three provinces that have allegedly been built by private companies on state land, a move that has been criticised by provincial officials and civil society representatives.
Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, said last week that an overwhelming majority of the reservoirs – 164 – were located in Kampong Thom province, while four were located in Battambang province and two were in Siem Reap province.
“They will be destroyed because they have been constructed in forest areas, fishing areas and in fishing communities,” he said. “Those areas are state property, and their construction can have serious effects on the environment and people’s health.”
But Chhun Chhorn, provincial governor of Kampong Thom province, said most of the 164 reservoirs in his province had been approved by local authorities, adding that their destruction could harm local agricultural output.
“We did this because it gives farmers the ability to harvest more rice, which is our goal,” he said. “The province and the government are going in different directions. They don’t contact or report to us about their plans, and the farmers may protest if they really do destroy” the reservoirs.
They never come to meet us, and they make decisions without consulting us.
Referring to Fisheries Administration officials, he added: “They never come to meet us, and they make decisions without consulting us. We do not know what to do, but I want to keep those reservoirs.”
Nao Thuok said only the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had the right to grant reservoir licences, and that any licences that had been granted by local officials were meaningless.
He added that only 16 reservoirs would be destroyed in the upcoming rainy season, and that the others would be destroyed “in the future”.
Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Culture and Environment Protection Association, said he too was concerned about how the destruction of reservoirs could affect farmers, adding that he did not understand the motivation behind destroying them now, as many had been in place for years.
“The ministry should destroy illegal water reservoirs, but it should do this when they are built,” he said. “If they do this now, it can destroy resources, and it will also affect farmers who depend on the reservoirs.”
Chhun Chhorn said he planned to meet with officials from the Fisheries Administration to find out how to limit the impact on farmers.
Bun Tharith, deputy governor of Siem Reap province, said he knew that officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology had studied the two reservoirs in his province last year, but that he had no idea that the government would make a move to destroy them.