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Climate change to hit rural poor

Climate change poses a major threat to Cambodia because of its extreme poverty and predominantly rural population, development experts told a conference yesterday.

“This is an agrarian economy that depends very much on weather.  And we are among the poorest countries in the world,” Dr Tin Ponlok, deputy director general of the Ministry of Environment’s Climate Change Department said at the launch of the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Cambodian Human Development Report.

For the first time, the  report focuses on climate change.

Tin Ponlok said Cambodia’s poverty and dependence on agriculture made the Kingdom more susceptible to the effects of climate change.

“We have very limited adaptive  capacity  … so  climate change poses additional threats to efforts to develop the country,” he said.

According to the report, climate change will have an extreme effect on Cambodia’s water resources, agriculture, fisheries and forests.

For example, a one-degree rise in temperature could make rice farming unviable for many farmers. Moreover, changes to water flows could increase competition for, and conflicts over, resources.

The poorest Cambodians will experience the effects of climate change the most, the report says.  As a result, it is critical to alleviate poverty by “ensuring universal access to health care, improving disease monitoring and surveillance, and establishing social safety nets”.

“By strengthening these critical areas of vulnerability and poverty, the likely impacts of climate change can be reduced,” the report says.

“At the same time, the human capital of the country can be strengthened and directed to the kinds of actions needed to make positive, longer-term development changes.”

Developing this “adaptive capacity” of Cambodians – so they are well prepared to respond to any crisis that climate change may bring – is a key recommendation of the report.

UNDP Cambodia deputy country director Sophie Bar-anes said the report “stresses the need to take actions … that will improve human development and adaptive capacity in response to any form of shock or crisis”.

She also called for a more work to be done at the local level.

“Climate change efforts thus far have largely been concentrated on the national and international levels.  Local planning and action, however … is where the greatest potential to build resilient rural livelihoods exists,” she said.

Collaboration with neighbouring countries is also important. “With much of the country lying within the Mekong River basin, action will need to be in partnership with Cambodia’s neighbours,” the report says.

Tin Ponlok said it was critical that future national development strategies were drafted with climate change in mind.

“We are at the early stages of our development, so it’s quite important to design the most appropriate development pathway.  We call it the green growth economy, that takes climate change into account,” he said.

“It’s not very easy, because no such model is in place,” he added.

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