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Pesticides killing Great Lake

Pesticides killing Great Lake

AN upsurge in the use of dangerous pesticides around the Tonle Sap area has started

to kill off wildlife and damage residents' health, according to experts who warn

the problem is about to get worse.

Dr. Yang Saing Koma, Executive Director of the Center for Study and Development in

Agriculture of Cambodia (CEDAC) said that farmers in the area have reported symptoms

of poisoning such as impaired vision and lethargy. He added that he believed the

decline in fish numbers and disappearance of some species of birds from the area

are also attributable to pesticide poisoning.

Ministry of Agriculture officials and NGO workers said farmers often mixed together

a number of pesticides to make a potent cocktail and then sprayed it in huge quantities

on crops. They said an additional concern was that pesticides were being used to

kill fish and game for human consumption.

An example of farmers' attitudes towards pesticides was recently highlighted in a

CEDAC study.

Dr Koma, said that the study showed vegetable growers around Phnom Penh used a cocktail

of four to six different pesticides per application which occurred 8 to 30 times

per cycle of vegetable production.

The result of such a high level of pesticide use has been its runoff into other areas.

Coordinator of the Agriculture Ministry's Integrated Pest Management scheme, Iv Phirun,

said that in one case they estimated 10 tonnes of DDT and Folidol had ended up in

the Tonle Sap as run-off from 2000 hectares of mung bean plantations in the Kampong

Plok village alone.

Poisons such as DDT and Folidol are banned in most countries but have been sold here

at bargain prices.

DDT is an accumulative poison. It does not break down easily and is stored in animals'

body fat. Most countries have banned it because of its long term ecological damage

and health dangers - DDT breaks down into a compound that is suspected of causing

cancer.

Its effectiveness is also questionable because many species of insect, particularly

mosquitoes, have built up resistance to it.

The other common pesticide being used is Folidol (methyl parathion). While it is

not as long- lasting as DDT in the environment Folidol is much more poisonous and

is in the WHO's top category of pesticide toxicity. In the US its use is restricted

to special licensed applicators. It is rapidly absorbed through the skin and can

be fatal in large doses while smaller amounts can cause cancer. It is also hazardous

to eye sight, reproduction and the central nervous system.

As long ago as 1994 NGOs had tried to have Folidol banned. The King supported the

move and issued a communique to both Prime Ministers asking them to ban the importation,

production and distribution of methyl parathion and all other WHO class 1a poisons

in Cambodia.

However no practical steps were taken to carry out the King's wishes. There was not

even a move to provide warnings or usage instructions for the pesticides in the Khmer

language, a dangerous omission which Dr Koma wants addressed.

Iv Phirun said that in the past two years farmers have used a lot of DDT but now

they are using Folidol mixed with Thiodan (a similar pesticide) because they believe

it is stronger but don't realize it could ruin their health.

He said that Folidol and Thiodan had become popular because they were cheap. He said

Vietnam and Thailand had ceased to use them so companies were off loading stock onto

Cambodia.

"Our country is the same as a rubbish bin - they throw out here what they

can't use," he said.

Meanwhile, Pich Sam Ang, National Director of Inventory and Management of Cambodia

Wetland at the Environment Ministry, said that the pesticide problems were nationwide

and not confined to the Tonle Sap area.

He said they had been able to educate some farmers about the hazards of pesticide

use but people in isolated areas received no information at all.

He said he was concerned about the use of pesticides to catch fish and other animals

for food.

"The poverty forces them to do this so they don't think about their health or

other problems."

He said he believed that the problems would get worse once the rainy season started

and flooded the areas were the pesticides were used. He said once that happened there

was likely to be widespread poisoning of fish and other animals as the pesticides

get spread out.

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