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Green answer in south

Green answer in south

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.

"It's like

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

Abroad.

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

catches.

"We are looking at seriously degraded environment that is under

increasing pressure from income-generating salt fields and shrimp farms," Guy

said.

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

ministry.

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."

The officials

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

money."

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.

He said

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.

Guy said

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.

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