The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology has urged the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to expedite their work in support of a joint project to develop the Kampong Thom province Stung Chinit Irrigation system and conserve local endangered species.

The plea was made by Chan Sinath, undersecretary of state at the ministry, during a video conference on December 14, requesting WCS to comply with procedures stipulated by the Ministry of Economy and Finance no later than December 15.

“We need them to complete the required provisions in order for us to continue progress on the irrigation project,” he said.

WCS national director Ken Serey Rotha on December 14 declined to comment on the ministry’s plea but said the project was part of a plan to reduce risks related to the habitats of rare birds, especially the critically endangered species Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis).

Serey Rotha explained that installation of the irrigation system infrastructure could affect the birds’ habitat, and the government and Asian Development Bank (ADB) want the organization to review their development plans so as to minimize environmental impact there.

“The government plans to build the Stung Chinit system to deliver irrigation water to the area so the environmental conservation work has played an important role in supporting this project ... The ministries and ADB have joined WCS to examine the possibility of strategic planning to reduce the high risk and impact on bird habitats,” he said.

Serey Rotha welcomed the government’s new mindset in adopting mechanisms to integrate conservation and development. He said this represents a turning point in recognising that the two must go hand in hand.

He added that the WCS project is not only about conserving natural resources and wildlife but also about helping rice farmers in the area with infrastructure improvements intended to boost production.

You La, director of Kampong Thom provincial department of Water Resources and Meteorology, said he was unaware of the details of the project, except that national officials and other relevant parties had visited the area in the past and results of their assessments had not yet been communicated to provincial offices.

“This project has not yet begun. This project has been put into development, and I’ve seen the consultants conducting studies. But there have not been any meetings or workshops to present their results. I’m waiting for implementation to start. But if their study concludes that the conservation of protected animals would be adversely affected, they will not allow it to proceed,” he said.

The water resources ministry has authorized ADB to provide direct contracts to WCS through the Irrigated Agriculture Improvement Project to enable the independent organisation to lead local conservation efforts while promoting economic growth.