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Eco-conference: problems, solutions

Eco-conference: problems, solutions

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

for firewood.

CEAT plans to produce a "State of the Cambodian Environment" report based

on the conference's proceedings.

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