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Provinces set to feel the heat

Provinces set to feel the heat

04 floodwater
Villagers are seen taking refuge from floodwaters in Kandal province’s Kbal Koh village in 2011 after Cambodia weathered devastating flooding. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Two provinces in Cambodia are likely to experience some of the greatest temperature increases and flooding in the Mekong region during the next three decades, according to a USAID-funded study on climate change that warns economic land concessions are badly exacerbating the problem.

Mondulkiri and Kampong Thom are listed among 12 regional hotspots in the report Climate Change Adaptation and Impact for the Lower Mekong, a draft of which was presented in Bangkok late last week.

“The provinces in eastern Cambodia and the Vietnamese highlands are highly threatened due to large increases in the wet-season temperature,” notes the 200-page study, which took the team of researchers nearly a year to compile.

Cambodia’s 3S rivers basin will have the highest temperature increase, with a predicted two to three degrees Celsius jump by 2050 and up to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Droughts will become more frequent, rainfall heavier and, in general, the Kingdom will have more intense weather throughout the year.

Cambodia’s floodplains will have an increase “of around one drought month per year,” and see at least a 16 per cent jump in heavy rains.

“Increasing peak rainfall and cyclone intensity will increase the variability in Mekong rainfall affecting flash floods, hill-slope erosion rates and downstream flooding,” adds the study, which is part of a five-year Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change project.

The knock-on effects of such extreme weather patterns threaten to undermine one of Cambodia’s fastest-growing industries and a personal pet project of the prime minister’s: rubber.

Mapping crop modeling onto the climate change data, researchers found that “rubber plantations experience large negative shifts in production area in Western Cambodia . . . due either to increase in rainfall or prolonged drought.”

Coffee plantations in Mondulkiri will face similar problems, the report warns, noting that for both crops, newly planted areas “are expected to be unsuitable for those crops by 2050.”

ELCs and the attendant loss of forest coverage, meanwhile, will speed the impact of climate change in Cambodia.

“Any form of land degradation resulting from land concessions within PAs [protected areas] increases the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change, and their capacity to adapt,” the report notes.

Last year alone, more than 150,000 hectares of protected forests were reclassified as private land, a figure that included the entirety of the Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary, Preah Vihear Protected Area and Peam Krasob Wildlife Sanctuary.

Similar to ELCs, a spate of planned hydropower dams will aggravate the effect of climate change.

“The direct, short and medium term impacts are likely to be that hydropower dams will increase local poverty and food insecurity, and thereby increase communities’ climate change vulnerability and/or decrease adaptive capacity,” the report warns.

Tin Ponlok, deputy director general at the Ministry of Environment’s climate change office, said he hadn’t seen the report, but that the broader findings appeared to be in line with his office’s data.

Declining to comment on specific potential risk factors, Ponlok said his office had been working with nine ministries to draw up a strategic plan for minimising the impacts of climate change and hoped to finalise it by the end of the year.

“It sounds quite consistent with the projection for the region,” he said. “Based on a number of independent assessments, I think Cambodia is among the most vulnerable nations. There are limited finance resources, limited access to technology, relatively weak infrastructure.”

Officials at the Ministry of Land Management could not be reached for comment.