THE Tonle Sap has another rich suitor eyeing up its future: the Asian Development
Bank, at least the sixteenth project working on the Great Lake and one worth $4 million
over three years.
The ADB said the Cambodian Government made "several specific requests"
for the project. It falls under the ADB's Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) plan, linking
southern China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in a multi-billion dollar
development grid in power, road, rail, tourism, trade and telecommunication, among
The ADB said it would cooperate with other "initiatives already underway"
by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), UNDP and UNESCO, to develop a single management
plan for the Tonle Sap.
The Tonle Sap has been touted as the "project of the century" and one "...
more glorifying than Angkor Wat". Critics say that the big development agencies
are being attracted to it because of profit, but not necessarily to improve local
people's livelihoods. The UNDP project has particularly come under fire as being
rushed and too narrowly focused.
Christine Alfsen Norodom, who is heading the UNESCO project, appears to have gained
some control in coordinating all the Tonle Sap projects. She said "the regional
link [offered by the ADB] is indispensable. You can't look at the Tonle Sap and not
look at what is happening upstream in the Mekong."
She said the ADB's was "potentially not a bad project" because it opened
a "counterweight" to that being done by the UNDP/MRC.
She said she was pleased that the ADB had recognized the UNESCO team as being the
"coordinating cell" for the Tonle Sap.
"If the project is well-managed, understood and done in consultation with us
and others, it can produce good results," she said.
Alfsen said "we are into safeguarding rather than developing," though a
"balance" between the two ideals had to be struck. People were intelligent
enough, and should have learned from mistakes in the past, to realize they need to
protect the lake in which they intended investing money, she said.
The ADB project - the most expensive yet announced for the Tonle Sap - "was
investment driven and profit [oriented]," she said. "Of course - [the ADB]
is a bank.
"But investment is not a dirty word. Profit is legitimate if it is made on the
basis of some [developmental] mandate.
"[Cambodia] needs infrastructure and economic vitality. What is my job in land
use planning if it's not to establish a sense of nationhood, and solidarity? We're
trying to build a state of law where people do not do things for their own or their
family's profit, but for the general interest," she said. "We need the
businessmen and their money... people aspire to the same style of livelihood. People
need TVs and to send their children to school. [Cambodia] needs investment and can't
be too choosy where that investment comes from."
Alfsen said she wanted international development agencies to create for the Tonle
Sap a level of awareness similar to that recently given to forestry, which was serious
enough for the World Bank and the IMF to "flex their muscles" and demand
the government change the anarchic way Cambodian forests are "managed".
"The Tonle Sap is imperative to Cambodia's survival... and the most important
part is to include Cambodians in its development," she said.
The UNESCO team had recently held a conference where six governors and various MPs
attended "to talk about the environment and resource management problems."
"The image people have of provincial authorities is that they are nothing more
than the 'chief cops' in each province, and aren't concerned about sustainability
or development. We have to start treating them as partners," she said.