Act on environment, UN urges

The government needs to enforce legislation on protecting the environment, even as it gives away masses of land and resources in concessions, or risk jeopardising its economic future, the UN assistant secretary-general for disaster risk reduction said yesterday.

“The most critical impact of disasters today is economic, and it’s taking away from the development investments that come to the Mekong [countries],” Margareta Wahlström said during the last day of a six-day trip to Cambodia to meet government officials and development partners.

Cambodia has “excellent legislation” to protect its natural resources and the government needs to apply those laws to show it was serious about the issue, she said.

Only 300,000 hectares of unclaimed arable land remains, after deduction of economic land and mining concessions, according to the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Wahlström likened the dilemma to building codes in earthquake-prone countries, where codes existed but “application and respect [was] not what it should be”.

“I’ve talked to so many government officials about this, and I know the will is strong, but I can also see that the systems are not working fast enough to help them,” she said, adding the authorities who were supposed to supervise enforcement often did not have enough resources and training to do the job.

Wahlström visited disaster-risk reduction projects implemented by NGO PLAN in Siem Reap province’s Srei Snam district – one of its poorest and the third-worst-hit district in last year’s floods.

District governor Mak Samphea said the district also experienced drought during the dry season, resulting in a high rate of migration to Thailand.

Wahlström said floods and droughts posed threats to Cambodia – with the latter being the more costly because it was difficult to tackle – and they would get worse.

“Longer term, the scientists say that Cambodia will have a very serious impact from climate change. More rain, much more rain, maybe also more drought,” she said.

Despite weather patterns already starting to change, it would take about 30 to 40 years to see the “full impact” of climate change, she said.

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