C ambodia faces environmental disasters in the near future if swift action is not taken, according to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Speaking to an environmental seminar in Phnom Penh on November 25, he said the government had to reduce illegal logging and mining, over-fishing, waste dumping and, in the cities, air pollution.
He warned the government should look toward neighboring countries such as Thailand which faced environmental problems such as deforestation and air pollution.
"Cambodia is not yet like Thailand, but we have to protect it before it becomes too late."
Two decades ago, about 70 percent of Cambodia was forest. Now it was about 40 percent.
If the government did not take action, over-logging would see Cambodia's thick jungle turning to "sparse forest, bushes, grass fields and then desert," the Prince said.
The rate of logging in the country was far higher than in other nations.
Forests in four provinces - Takeo, Kandal, Svay Rieng and Prey Veng - had been virtually wiped out. Heavy logging continued in many other regions.
An official from Koh Kong province near the Thai border, who would not be named, said some 10,000 cubic meters of timber was logged there every day.
He said one district alone had an estimated 16,000 mechanical saws, providing timber for hundreds of trucks ferrying it to Thailand.
Officials sent from Phnom Penh to assess the logging realized the environmental damage, he said, but did little to stop it when they realized the amounts of money being earned.
Ranariddh said other environmental problems included depleted fish stocks in both fresh and salt water species.
He said he intends to ban fishing in the Tonle Sap lake, where several kinds of fish had become extinct, for several years to protect other species.
According to a report presented at the conference, fishing methods such as the use of explosives, along with the residue from pesticides used on land, were poisoning fish in the lake.
Other issues raised at the conference included the heavy gem mining in Pailin by about 16 Thai companies working in cooperation with the Khmer Rouge.
The areas being mined were expanding, according to Prince Ranariddh. As well as the environmentally unfriendly mining, silt residue from it was choking the Tonle Sap.