Climate change fight needs local front

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian men used a net to catch fish in a nearly dried pond at a village in Kandal province in 2016. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP

Climate change fight needs local front

Human beings have been harming nature, with the emission of greenhouse gases, widespread deforestation, colossal-scale mining, sand dredging, and the construction of hydro-electric dams.

And now it appears it is nature’s turn to get her revenge – with increasing weather extremes. When it is hot, there will be drought, and when the rains will increasingly bring powerful storms, and flooding will devastate people’s lives.

Extreme weather has been all over the news recently, with countries on every inhabited continent feeling the brunt.

Tackling the problems of climate change at the intergovernmental level has been hindered by financing disagreements between developed and developing nations.

And when such hurdles are overcome, with climate change deniers in positions of power, President Donald Trump can withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

But political deadlock at the top can be countered with action at the local level.

In Cambodia as of Thursday, 9,831 families had been affected, with 1,583 evacuated, 10,379 hectares of rice paddies and 1,031 hectares of agricultural crops were inundated by floods in 11 provinces in southwest and northeast Cambodia, according to Keo Vy, Spokesperson of the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM).

Flooding from the Mekong River system alone has affected five provinces: Stung Treng, Kratie, TbongKhmum, Kampong Cham and Prey Veng.

Eight people have died due to the disaster, with 4,278 families affected, with 5,009 needing to be evacuated. Over 20,000 hectares of agricultural fields have been inundated.

The floods have affected farmlands in 27 districts and 141 communes, inundating 142 schools, 80 pagodas and six health centres, while 16,810 head of cattle have had been evacuated to higher ground. Keo Vy, spokesman for the NCDM, told The Post that the government has not yet used its flood reserve budget yet, while the NCDM has not yet evaluated the impact of the flooding.

How much the damage has been caused, we will need to wait for an inter-ministry evaluation as infrastructure has not yet been as damaged as in 2011 and 2013.

Budget spending

The government has just approved an increased $129 million budget per year for commune and sangkat councils, and 20 per cent of the that needs to be allocated at the local level to tackle the increasing effects of climate change.

But climate change seems to be treated as something of a fringe issue at the moment, with little information broadcast by local news outlets. Even the NCDM website has not been updated to include information about the floods affecting seven provinces and the capital city.

During the recent election period, the effects of extreme weather and its causes was noticeably absent from the parties’ campaign agendas.

Each party just announced on their policies – the most were heard were some parties criticising the government over its failure to prevent deforestation and floods.

The situation is becoming so predictable that people in certain areas are seeing a two to three-year cycle of flooding.

Veal Renh commune in Preah Sihanouk province, for example, has Khmer Rouge-era dams and reservoirs which have not been maintained, and when it rains heavily, the excess water repeatedly causes flooding.

To tackle this, the government should add more to the national budget on commune and sangkat development, and focus on the data collection and create a management mechanism on adaptating to climate change.

Spending 20 percent of the recently approved $129 million per year for commune and sangkat councils

budget may sound a lot, but when flooding destroys the national infrastructure – roads, bridges, canals, the clean water supply, the electricity network and people’s property – it costs many millions of dollars.
Prevention is better than cure.

In Cambodia we have seen two successful models to follow. In Banteay Meanchey province, there is cooperation and budget sharing between the provincial Water Resources Department, commune councils and the NGO Ockenden Cambodia which addresses the adaptation issue.

Using the Cheurng Krous reservoir in Banteay Chhmar district, the scheme looks to drought and flood prevention. By deepening the Khmer Rouge-era reservoir and constructing canals to water crops and farmland, the community has been able to cultivate crops twice a year.

In a second case in Mongkoul Borey district, water rises dangerously when the Tonle Sap river inundates, the cooperation, which is based on all-too painful experience, led to the construction of roads higher than the dangerous water level and a large canal in allow excess water to flow into rice fields, avoiding flooding and helping irrigation.

Safe high ground for people was constructed too, according to the 2017 Ockenden Cambodia annual report on development.

In short, based on just these two case studies, it seems clear that the government must increase the budget for climate change adaptation at the commune and sangkat level for such simple and beneficial measures in order to prevent further disasters, as extreme weather, increasingly the norm, becomes ever more problematic – and deadly.

Tong Soprach is a social affairs columnist for The Post’s Khmer edition. Comments: [email protected]

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