A small Australian NGO is tackling the job of repairing some of the
environmental damage done over the past two decades to the seacoast and forests
of southern Cambodia.
After several months of study, Apheda has launched
a replanting project while at the same time teaching villagers to recognize the
link between the environmental damage and their livelihoods.
anything else. Some villages won't be interested in the project. Some will. So
we'll work with those who are interested," said Jeff Guy, project coordinator
for Australian People for Health, Education and Development
Apheda surveyed 26 coastal villages from Sihanoukville to the
Vietnamese border. They found that people had been cutting the mangroves for
more than 25 years and villagers were complaining of a decline in fish
"We are looking at seriously degraded environment that is under
increasing pressure from income-generating salt fields and shrimp farms," Guy
He said the environmental damage was very severe in Kampot, but is
not as bad as in Koh Kong province, to the west, which was occupied by
"intensive" shrimp farming. Intensive aquaculture involves pouring chemicals
into the water to enhance shrimp production.
The process pollutes the
water and destroys coastal mangroves.
As much as 60 percent of the
southern coast is said to be composed of private shrimp farms or government
owned salt flats.
Both industries involve turning the environmentally
diverse and sensitive mangroves into mud flat wastelands, eroding their ability
to act as a buffer between the sea and the land.
An Agriculture Ministry
official said the department applauded Apheda's efforts, but didn't want to shut
down the Kampot shrimp farms, even while acknowledging that they are illegal,
without finding other means of employment for the people.
"We want to
find a solution, but this is a problem for the poor people who are trying to
find a way to survive. If we ban the shrimp farms, we want to find other jobs.
Raising cattle, pigs," said Chhun Sareth, under-secretary of state for the
Australian Ambassador Tony Kevin, who toured the forest and
mangrove areas with Sareth and other officials on July 8-9, said it was a
misnomer to call a shrimp pond a farming operation.
"It's a mining
operation. The communities need to learn to distinguish the difference between
investment and short-term profit at the community's loss."
took a ferry from Kampot, then slogged through the mudflats to tour a ten
hectare area of devastated mangrove on the site of an abandoned shrimp project.
Apheda is replanting mangroves on the site.
"People say, 'Oh the
environment suffers because people are so poor, they can't do anything about
it.' It's not true. The poor people didn't do this," said Kevin, waving an arm
at the large and barren mudflat.
"People came in with bulldozers. This
levy was made by somebody who paid the villagers a bit of money to make a lot of
The group also visited a working illegal shrimp farm, where the
owner, Tha Oeun said he harvested upward of five kilograms of shrimp a day,
which he sold to a middleman for 5,000 to 10,000 riel per kilo.
the dikes and canals for his shrimp pond were built about three years ago, and
he thought he would be able to farm it for many years to come.
Oeun was wrong. After a few years, the production would decline as the water
becomes stagnant and acidic, he said.
The Apheda mangrove project is
funded with a $100,000 budget. The project was delayed by the security situation
in Kampot last year following the taking of three western hostages, finally
getting started last September.
Guy said the security in Kampot was good
now, and the staff would safely be able to go out to meet village leaders to
discuss environmental issues.