A one-year epidemiological study is underway to investigate the relationship between Cambodia's flying foxes (huge bats) and the deadly nipah virus which killed 100 people in Malaysia last year. It is theorized that 20% of the bats, famous for roosting grounds in Phnom Penh, carry the virus, and so far one of six blood samples tested has contained the disease. The problem is magnified because the bats are the main ingredient of a famous bat soup popular in the restaurants of one district of Kandal Province. The virus-carrying blood sample came from one of the restaurant bats. Approximately 15,000 bats a year are killed for food, and this is leading to another problem, the threat of extinction of the species.
2 December 2000
Damming Up a Lot of Problems
During the 20th century, more than 45,000 large dams were constructed, more than one a day. Now the World Commission on Dams has produced a report on the economic, social, and environmental impact of the dams, and the findings and conclusions of the report raise a question for some as to whether any more large dams should be built at all. Irrigation from the dams has been helpful, but the dams have generally fallen short of their target, did not recover their costs, and have been less profitable in economic terms than expected. The factor coming in for the most criticism, however, is the displacement of peoples. Between 40 to 80 million people have been uprooted by dam construction, and resettlement plans have been less than satisfactory. Three of the current controversial large dams are in Asia: the Three Gorges Dam in China; the Narmada River Dam in India; and the San Roque Dam in the Philippines.
26 October 2000
The Tigers and the Keystone Cops--Part Two
This story (click here for part two) really has a happy ending because it does show some initiative on the part of the government for protecting wildlife. But at the same time, it is a telling commentary on the state of the legal system and law enforcement here.
25 October 2000
The Tigers and the Keystone Cops
It's hard to know whether this item should go into Green Forum (about the environment) or into Cambodia (about the Cambodian government and society). I'll let you read the article from The Cambodia Daily yourself. And then don't miss the sequel tomorrow. The story gets even better!
5 October 2000
Retraining the Soldiers
A local environmental NGO called Mlup Baitong, Green Shadow, has started a program to retrain soldiers as environmentalists. Two groups of soldiers have been taken to former battlegrounds in the Kirirom National Park and introduced to the fauna and flora there, and challenged to become more aware of the environment, its value for all Cambodians, and the ways they as soldiers can protect it, especially in the fight against illegal logging where the army is involved.
29 September 2000
Deforestation as Cambodian Politics
Sam Rainsy, opposition member of Parliament, on deforestation and government responses to it:
Following my 17 September statement blaming deforestation and the underlying government corruption for the deadly and devastating floods in Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen responded on 21 September by arguing that there is no connection between floods and deforestation. He pointed to the fact that "similar floods already occurred in 1929, at a time when Cambodia was full of forest". He also pointed out that other countries such as "Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea have also suffered from floods but nobody has blamed deforestation".
Just one day after Mr. Hun Sen's attempt to deny any government
responsibility for the current floods following unprecedented deforestation in Cambodia in the last few years, Reuters reported from Bangkok: "The United Nations' Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said on Friday [September 22] deforestation was a major cause of the floods that have devastated Indochina and the Mekong delta in the last month".
On the same day, AFP reported from Phnom Penh: "Region-wide more than two million people across Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos are now homeless as a result of the worst floods in a generation sweeping through the Mekong river basin". There were additional reports of more than 200 people being killed by the floods. ESCAP also pointed out: "The intensity of flood disasters has increased in the region during the past few years, causing increasingly serious social and economic impact on the developing nations".
Even though floods can be attributed to other factors such as "rising sea levels, high tides, changing weather patterns, increased annual rainfall, reduction in river channels and drainage, reclamation of flood plains and wetlands and a rapid expansion of urban and residential areas", deforestation definitely remains the main cause of recent ecological disasters, especially in Cambodia where the forest cover has shrunk from 73% in 1969 to less than 30% now, with the bulk of the destruction occurring since the opening up of the country in 1993.
After a scandal over the dumping of tons of imported toxic waste in Cambodia, the government last year passed laws aimed at preventing a repeat of such disasters. The enforcement of the law has been relatively half-hearted and ineffective, however. So far the government has fined 16 companies between $260 and $2600 and has warned 2 others to make improvements. The government is often reluctant to take strong action, though, and as one woman commented: "It is worthless to file more complaints because officials are paid off to be ignorant." Most Cambodian factories are in residential areas so even though the level of industrialization in Cambodia is low compared to other countries, the effects of the pollution violations is greatly felt.
Recently representatives from 45 Asian countries met in Phnom Penh to discuss modifications to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). The meeting focused specifically on 11 animal and 2 plant species. The Cambodia minister encouraged much stronger border controls and inspections at border check points and airports through which most of the endangered species are carried.
Serey, the first sun bear to be born and survive in captivity in Cambodia, has been returned to the zoo where he was born. He had been hand-reared in an apartment in order to provide special care during his four months. His parents were two sun bears who were rescued while awaiting their fate as the main dish in a local restaurant. Serey is valuable as the first successful birth of a Cambodian sun bear but also as part of an expanded breeding pool to improve the sun bear species internationally.
13 July 2000
The Value of Illegal Logging
The Cambodian Department of Forestry and Wildlife is preparing to take to court a Malaysian logging company for illegally cutting and removing valuable hardwoods from the Cardamom Mountains in southwest Cambodia. The systematic illegal logging was uncovered through aerial reconnaissance by two NGOs, Global Witness and Conservation International, and the Forestry Department. The impetus behind the large-scale illegal cutting of the forests is the high value of the felled logs. 180 of the illegally cut logs in this operation would be worth more than $100,000 at current world prices.
Government conservation staff recently concluded an extensive survey of the wildlife in several parts of Cambodia, and more than 60 species of mammals were recorded. Automated cameras were used as part of the survey and they resulted in the first-ever pictures of tigers in the wild in Cambodia. Another welcome result was the finding of the spotted linsang, an elusive cat-like animal which had never before been seen in Cambodia. In the bad-news column, however, the researchers found that in the Kirirom National Park almost all the large mammals have been lost due to poachers and landmines.
Recently in Cambodia's parliament, there was praise for the cancellation of some of the logging concessions (usually to companies with government or military connections) that have destroyed Cambodia's forests at an alarming rate. Three such concessions were canceled this year and eleven last year.
One lawmaker noted, however, that most of Cambodia's forests, one of its most attractive natural resources, were already gone while only about 20,000 acres of land had been reforested in the last fourteen years.
Another parliamentarian criticized the government's policy of burning both the lumber and the trucks that are confiscated when illegal logging and sawmilling operations are raided.
The lack of water and the pollution of existing water supplies is already Asia's biggest problem. One in three Asians has no access to safe drinking water. That is 830 million people, and two billion in Asia do not have sanitation facilities. More than a half million infants die every year in Asia from dirty water and poor sanitation.
As the local appetite for sparrows and snakes has increased, the numbers of rats and insects destroying crops has also increased. Likewise, the use of pesticides has increased to a dangerous level. A survey was done at the end of 1999 and it was found that more than half the pesticide dealers did not separate the chemical poisons from cosmetics, food, medicine, and other products in their shops. Only one dealer interviewed had any education on pesticides. 168 different pesticides are available in Cambodia, and one third of these--including the four most commonly used pesticides--are classified by the World Health Organization as highly toxic and very dangerous. Farmers and agricultural workers also have very little knowledge of the chemicals they are using and are at great risk.
Snakes and sparrows are favored delicacies here in Cambodia, and the demand in restaurants is so great that these animals are disappearing from the jungles and fields of Cambodia. Snake blood mixed with rice wine is popular in restaurants, and many people like to down 10 or 15 roasted sparrows with beer. Many farmers give up tilling their land to become hunters for the birds and reptiles. But as the sparrows and snakes disappear, there has been a substantial increase in the amount of crop damage due to rats and other insects which would normally be eaten by the snakes and birds. Rice bugs, land crabs, grasshoppers, and other insects are becoming major problems.
2 February 2000
Migrating Birds: Good News and Bad News
There are about 700 rare black-faced spoonbills in the world, and about a quarter of these birds migrate to Hong Kong's Mai Po marshes to winter each year. 178 of the spoonbills were counted this year, up from 153 last year, and while the increasing numbers are reassuring in one sense, environmentalists are worried that perhaps the larger number of spoonbills in HK may be due to the destruction of other wetland areas in Asia which has forced more of the birds to come to Hong Kong.