PRIME Minister Hun Sen has ordered authorities in six provinces to destroy or modify all illegal reservoirs lying within two designated zones around the Tonle Sap lake in order to protect its biodiversity.
In an order issued on Friday, the premier informed the governors of Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces that most reservoirs lying within the two areas of the lake’s flood plain were to be destroyed.
He also asked them to halt a range of activities that he said were harming the biodiversity of the lake, including the controlled burning of trees and slash-and-burn farming.
“The illegal reservoir and ecotourism sites have had a serious effect on the natural stability of the Tonle Sap, including its ecological systems such as fish stocks, water levels, flooded forest areas and overall environmental health and biodiversity,” the order said.
The order also banned any new development projects that had not been subjected to environmental impact assessments by the relevant officials.
“If any provincial governor of the six provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap lake does not implement these measures through this regulation, they will be held to face the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” it warned.
The order did not specify what should be done with reservoirs lying within a third zone surrounding the lake.
Chan Youttha, secretary general of the Tonle Sap Authority, said yesterday that that body had identified a total of 243 illegal reservoirs, but had only destroyed 12 because heavy rainfall was making it impossible to operate excavators.
“We will continue to investigate and demolish illegal reservoirs in the flooded forest of the Tonle Sap lake area to prevent degradation of the bio-ecology systems,” he said.
More than 400 families in Kampong Thom’s Stung district met local officials last Thursday to request a halt to the destruction of a reservoir that they say has tripled their annual rice yield.
Tak Samnang, a representative of the 424 families in Chamna Krom commune, said each family had contributed US$450 to build the 2,000-by-3,000-square-metre reservoir, and that he didn’t know how they could continue to cultivate rice during the dry season without it.
“There might be not any reservoirs in Kampong Thom province that have been authorised,” he said.
He added that he didn’t object to the destruction of all reservoirs, but that he wanted the government to consider each case individually.
Chan Youttha said he would consider re-engineering rather than destroying some reservoirs in unforested areas around the Tonle Sap lake, provided that those reservoirs were dug by villagers and offered a demonstrable benefit to local communities.