Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered all relevant institutions to take tougher measures in preventing “anarchic” sand dredging, illegal fishing and the clearing of flooded forest, which he said would have an adverse impact on Cambodia’s rivers.
Speaking at the fifth River Festival in Kampong Chhnang province on Saturday, Hun Sen also called on stakeholders to jointly protect natural resources for the national interest.
“You need to seek a source of funding to prevent riverbanks collapsing and stop rivers becoming shallow, and find ways to direct the water current. You must prevent anarchic sand dredging, illegal fishing and the clearing of flooded forest that would result in our rivers losing resources and [damage them] as tourist attractions,” he said.
The prime minister said the Kingdom’s natural resources attract both local and foreign visitors wishing to see the lush green vegetation and the many animal and fish species.
“So we must strive together to protect these resources. This is not asking the impossible. We can do it, but it requires the concerted effort and actions of our people,” he said.
“We do not have the capacity to pump, restore and direct water currents and prevent riverbanks from collapsing yet. We must seek the budget to resolve these issues at places where we can deal with them first.
“Our waters, including the Tonle Sap and other lakes, have become shallow year after year because of sand and silt brought in during the rainy season and fallen leaves, which have also played a part in making our rivers shallower.
“This situation has changed from some 50 to 60 years or 100 years ago when the waters were deep. Then there were plenty of fish and less people. But now the waters are becoming shallower and with less fish but more people. Coupled with anarchic fishing, it has posed challenges for us all,” he said.
Yos Monirath, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told The Post on Sunday that over the past few years the ministry had sent its inspectorate team to crack down on a series of illegal sand dredging operations, with a number of unlicensed businesses either shut down or fined, or both.
He said relevant authorities would take tougher measures following Hun Sen’s appeal.
“Sand dredging does not impact all rivers if the dredging complies with the guidance laid out by experts after thorough studies aiming to restore the riverbed. But in some cases, dredging is done covertly – we acknowledge that it happens. We have taken measures to combat such clandestine operations by cooperating with relevant authorities at all levels as well as people living along the rivers,” he said.
The ministry’s measures also include a round-the-clock hotline for stakeholders to report suspicious activities involving illegal mining and sand dredging.
Srey Vuthy, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, could not be reached for comment by The Post on Sunday.
Hem Odom, an independent researcher in the fields of sociology and the environment, welcomed the prime minister’s appeals for the joint protection of the rivers, which he said are vital resources for humankind.
“This is an encouragement for all officials to fulfil their obligations. As long as there are effective mechanisms in place, such encouragement from the top leadership would spur officials into action and eventually lead to an effective, systematic protection of our natural resources,” he said.
Odom said eradicating natural resources-related crimes requires political will and strict law enforcement.
Neam Kopy, an expert on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), said that while such offences are continuing, they have decreased compared to previous years thanks to better awareness of the issue among the public and greater action by relevant authorities.
“I’ve found that offences including anarchic sand dredging, illegal fishing and the clearing of flooded forest have decreased. Our citizens’ perceptions of the issue has played a part, while authorities have worked harder to combat the crime,” he said.
Both Odom and Kopy urged for a thorough assessment of environmental impacts before any development projects are carried out.