The burning of grass and rubbish on plantations along the base of the Bokor Mountain in Kampot province is raising concerns of wildfires and harmful air pollution.
Kampot provincial Department of Environment director Suy Thea told The Post that during this cold season, burning activities on plantation land by people along the slope of the Bokor Mountain are occurring with alarming frequency despite efforts by experts and local authorities to educate local residents about the dangers of such fires and put a stop to the practice.
He said that in villages across the province, people have been cutting and burning grass on their plantations almost every day since the cold season arrived.
“Even though their burning in those villages has not yet led to wildfires, we fear that the smoke emanating from their fires causes air pollution that impacts public health and the environment,” Thea said.
He explained that in addition to the people burning grass and rubbish on plantations, a majority of people also continue burning plastic waste around their houses or nearby public roads in the Bokor National Park area. He was concerned that an accident at any burning site could spread into a wildfire that would reach the park.
Thea urged all rangers to increase patrols and crackdown on violations, especially incidences of burning grass that encroach on forest land. It was imperative to prevent fires from affecting protected and conserved areas, he said, adding that provincial and local authorities would need to cooperate routinely.
Boeung Touk commune police chief Nguon Mach told The Post that because this season has been humid and conducive to growing crops, many people in his commune had cleared and burned grass and small wooded areas on their lands for planting.
“When they burn grass and wood on their plantations, forests in protected areas nearby are damaged even when they do not cause wildfires,” he said.
Andong Khmer commune acting police chief Nget Chandara said authorities had frequently instructed villagers to stop burning on their plantations, but some did not heed the directions.
“Burning grass and trees as well as plastic and other rubbish on household compounds or along public roads in the village are all banned because these activities could easily lead to a disaster. Unfortunately, not all villagers comply with our instructions,” he said.
Ministry of Interior’s fire prevention department director Neth Vantha said failure to follow mandates by authorities is a violation punishable by criminal charges. If an illegal fire led to a disaster causing damage to property or deaths, those responsible would be penalised under the law on fire prevention and sub-decrees 131 and 87.
“Burning rubbish, grass or trees in this windy season might cause catastrophe. Proper waste disposal is important. People should gather plastic and other waste for disposal by [rubbish] collection agents,” he said.
In 2016, incidents of clearing and burning forests caused wildfires across the country. Thousands of hectares of protected areas were burned in provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake.
Since then, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Environment have issued a joint directive on “measures to protect and stop wildfires in natural protected areas and biodiversity conservation corridors” urging all relevant parties to cooperate for effective implementation. The directive banned people from using fire as a means of poaching or forest or grass lands clearing.