As climate change becomes a crucial concern worldwide, jobs are being created for young people who want to help save the natural wonders that are key to the future success of Cambodia
Photo by: Phar Lina
Biology student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
working to save the environment
The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest cause of climate change in the world. There are many new biofuel companies opening in Cambodia who are hiring scientists to develop clean energy sources for the future.
Cambodia’s government and private sector are working together to bring more tourists to the country’s beautiful remote destinations. Tourism companies need people to build a tourism infrastructure that will not damage the environment as well as people who can speak foreign languages to take care of the tourists once they arrive.
There are a number of groups who are working to stop illegal practices such as logging so that the eco-systems and environment of Cambodia will remain intact. They need scientists, activists, community outreach representatives and people who want to save the environment.
If you go for a walk in the woods anytime soon, you may happen to hear a distinct buzz in the air that seems to be getting louder. Don’t run for cover: it’s not a chainsaw. What you hear is the palpable excitement now growing around the world for the day when money will grow on trees. Or, to be more precise, as trees.
True to its purpose, the “Danish-Brazilian plan” – which would see wealthy countries pay developing ones to preserve their forests – is clearing the bitter atmosphere at the Copenhagen climate conference. Encouraged by the UN-REDD programme, the world market for carbon credits attracts new investors all the time, creating more wildlife preserves in the process. And as we gear up for the decisive confrontation with climate change, media focus on the natural world (along with fears that this may be the last chance to experience untouched nature) will inspire more eco-tourists as well.
In contrast to the current mainstays of Cambodia’s economy, save agriculture, the “green sector” looks set to become even more competitive in the coming years.
How fast this sector grows, as well as the amount of revenue and jobs it is able to create, depends on how effectively Cambodia harnesses two sets of unconventional resources: biomass and renewable energy on the one hand, and on the other, the country’s vast natural greenspaces themselves.
The beauty of this second set of resources is that they don’t need a mine or a drill or a refinery. Left to their own devices, Cambodia’s trees export clean air and import sequestered carbon.
They support the incredible diversity of plant and animal species, which will bring in droves of ecotourists. All these forests need is someone to make sure their billion-year party keeps going strong. If there is a single “hot career” in Cambodia right now, conservation is it.
Conservation is not a single job, but a wide spectrum of activities. Olga van den Pol, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s eco-homestay project in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest, said these roles could be placed into four broad categories: “research, enforcement, tourism and community work.”
The pace of development in all of these areas is apparent from a quick survey of Cambodia’s conservation NGOs in recent news.
Research: Scientists at Flora Fauna International discovered that a majority of the 69 crocodiles at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre were purebred Siamese crocodiles, a surge in total population for a species with only 250 specimens estimated to live in the wild.
Enforcement: An expedition led by Wildlife Alliance hiked deep into the jungles of the Cardamom Mountains to detonate abandoned stocks of saffrole oil, a precursor chemical used to manufacture MDMA (Ecstasy).
This illicit saffrole trade is pushing the rare species of tree which contains the oil to the brink of extinction, and toxins from these makeshift factories are contaminating the region’s fragile ecosystem.
Community work: See our interview with FFI community development coordinator Om Sony on the back page of this section.
Tourism: WWF debuts eco-homestay in Ei Dey, a village located within the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.
In describing how WWF worked with the indigenous Phnong of Ei Dey village, located in the protected forest itself to establish an entirely Phnong-run homestay centre, van den Pol touches on the level of creativity and empowerment that conservation work offers the local people who live within a protected habitat.
After months of planning with Phnong speakers with limited literacy and Khmer speaking skills, the trainers pitched the homestay idea.
They got 13 young volunteers who divided themselves into a staff of five forest guides, five cooks and three managers. A young woman who could read and write became the financial officer.
After roles were chosen “the tourism department of the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) provided hospitality training,” said van den Pol. The staff was also given courses in the concepts of ecology and ecotourism from RUPP’s Biodiversity Conservation Programme. The homestay centre, a solar-powered accommodation for eight visitors, has been operational since September.
Kim Thidakallianey, a communications officer at WWF received her undergraduate training in the more “mainstream” field of hospitality and restaurant management. After graduating, her path to WWF had one intervening twist.
“My background is in filmmaking. I was a TV producer, for Music Mission on CTN, a show about maternal and child healthcare. I heard about WWF when working on a film [for the BBC],” said Kim Thidakallianey, who said she was inspired by WWF’s work trying to protect the dwindling numbers of freshwater Irrawady dolphin, whose last river habitats in Cambodia are being threatened by hydroelectric dam projects. “Now I present WWF’s work to the world.”
Kim Thidakallianey said that her jobs at CTN and WWF were similar in many ways. From a technical point of view, both involved studying a field about which she had little prior information. At CTN, she turned those concepts and messages into dramatic scenarios. At WWF, Kim Thidakallianey mainly deals with the press, but occasionally she gets to stage a return to showbiz: after she led a short-story writing seminar at the “eco-club” of a Mondulkiri Forest village, her young students honoured her by turning the short story into a play performed in front of the entire village.
As REDD revenues and other sources of ecological incentive funding reach Cambodia, NGOs will continue to establish and expand habitats and develop new projects. Universities must undertake a massive expansion in capacity to teach conservation and the sciences, or else the number of Cambodians with formal training will not meet the human resource demands within the industry.
However, like the ecosystems they protect, conservation teams thrive on a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, aptitudes and passions. After all, the efforts of these NGOs do not just benefit those working in the conservation sector. They benefit everyone and everything in Cambodia, and only through cooperation between every level of society will the Kingdom’s natural wonder be saved.
Cambodian peoples’ knowledge related to the environment is still low. That’s why they don’t care so much about preventing climate change and they don’t know it will make them sick. I feel that it is not too late and when the people in the world worry and think about climate change or the environment they will cooperate to solve the problem.” Chin Vathana, 20, second-year student of business management at University of Cambodia
I see that our people are starting to be interested in taking care of the environment, but we need a long time to make it better and to explain to people how to protect the atmosphere to create a healthy environment. I am worried about climate change just like others in the world are worried and all countries are finding ways to solve this problem.” Ry Thany, 20, third-year student of business management of University of Cambodia
The environment in Cambodia today is not good because some people are still careless with protecting the environment. They only think about their own benefit. I think all people should change their mind from now on, it is not too late.” Pal Sinet, 23, a pedagogy student at National Institute of Education