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National Library of Australia.
ISBN 0-86905-558-5
ISSN 1037-4612

The views presented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Asia Research Centre or Murdoch University.


Working Paper No. 70

Resource Management in the

Cambodian Mekong Basin

The Mekong Basin Series

Alexandra Gartrell
May 1997

© Copyright: No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.


The Mekong Basin Series 1

Contents 3

List of Tables 3

List of Figures 3

Table of Abbreviations 3

1. Introduction 5

2. Political and Economic Setting 5

2.1 Recent Political Events 5

2.2 Economic Setting 6

3. Geographical Setting 7

3.1 Location 7

3.2 The Mekong Basin in Cambodia 7

3.3 Climate 8

3.4 Population 9

3.5 Agriculture 9

Population density 10

Figure 1: 10

4. Institutional Framework for Natural Resource Management 13

4.1 The Ministry of Agriculture 14

Table 1: Total Area Cultivated for Rice per Province 1967 and 1993. 14

5. Natural Resources of the Basin in Cambodia 16

5.1 Land 16

5.1.1 Vegetation 17

5.2 Forests 18

TABLE 2: Land Use Area Statistics 18

5.2.1 Current Forest Policy 19

5.3 Protected Area System (PAS) 21

Table 3: Companies Involved in Logging Concessions 22

Legend 23

Table 4: Cambodia’s Protected Area System on Paper. 24

Protected Area 24

National Parks 24

5.4 Community Forestry and Reforestation 24

Figure 2: Forest Concessions and Protected Areas 25

5.5 Fisheries 25

Table 5: Cambodia’s Commercial Fish Production (tons) by Major Fishery, 1982 - 1992. 26

5.5.1 Current Fisheries Policy 27

Table 6: Characteristic Features of Fishing Practices in Freshwater Fisheries, Cambodia. 27

5.5.2 Aquaculture 28

5.6 Wetlands 29

5.6.1 Current Wetland Management 30

5.7 Water 31

5.7.1 Current Water Management 31

5.7.2 Irrigation 32

6. Perspectives on Impact in Cambodia of Developments Elsewhere in the Basin 34

7. Perspectives on Impacts Elsewhere in the Basin of Developments in Cambodia 36

8. Role of the Mekong River Commission 36

9. Summary and Recommendations 36

Bibliography 38

Endnotes 40

List of Tables

Table 1: Total Area Cultivated for Rice per Province 1967 and 1993.

Table 2: Land Use Area Statistics.

Table 3: Companies Involved in Logging and Wood Processing.

Table 4: Cambodia’s Protected Area System on Paper.

Table 5: Cambodia’s Commercial Fish Production (tons) by Major Fisheries, 1982-1992.

Table 6: Characteristic Features of Fishing Practices in Freshwater Fisheries, Cambodia.

List of Figures

Figure 1: Population Density by Province, Cambodia, 1992.

Figure 2: Logging Concessions and Protected Areas, Cambodia, 1996.

Table of Abbreviations

AFSC American Field Service Committee

AWB Asian Wetland Bureau


CPP Cambodian People’s Party

EIA Environmental Impact Assessment

FAO Food and Agricultural Organisation

IDRC International Development Research Centre

IRRI International Rice Research Institute

IUCN International Union for the Conservation of Nature

MRC Mekong River Commission

RGC Royal Government of Cambodia

UNDP United Nations Development Program

UNTAC United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia

1. Introduction

Presently, Cambodia is at a pivotal point in its history, not only in terms of political and economic development, but also in determining relations with the natural environment. In the last two decades Cambodia has undergone significant change. Since the late 1980s, economic liberalisation, political pluralism, the so called new “peace” and democracy have been in various stages of evolution. The implications of these processes have been far reaching, penetrating every level of society. This paper focuses on the effects of these changes for resource management within the Cambodian section of the Mekong Basin. The Mekong River Commission has shown renewed interest in the Mekong River and has plans for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin. Simultaneously however, there is increasing pressure for development, exploitation and conservation. Consequently, Cambodia’s natural resources and the livelihoods of the majority of Khmers are in an increasingly vulnerable position.

2. Political and Economic Setting

2.1 Recent Political Events

Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953, and was ruled by King Norodom Sihanouk until 1970, when despite Sihanouk’s attempts to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality in the war in Indochina, Lon Nol with the backing of the US government overthrew him. This formed the first Khmer Republic and drew Cambodia into the US camp in the Indochinese war. This greatly contributed to the onset of a Khmer civil war. Also in the early 1970’s, the US started extensive bombing in the north east of Cambodia in an attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. Extensive damage and the death of up to a million people was the result. Many Khmers were made refugees and subsequently migrated to Phnom Penh, others became Pol Pot’s first recruits.

From 1975 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, ruled the country essentially as a mass slave labour camp and as an experiment in ultra collectivisation of not just agriculture but all aspects of daily life. The result was the death of many due to starvation, disease and execution; estimates vary from between one and a half to two million people.

The implications of the Pol Pot period are still being felt, not just in terms of the dislocation of traditional agriculture, loss of indigenous technical knowledge, infrastructure, family, friends and relatives and impoverishment but also in terms of engendering a psychology of fear, a lack of trust, repressed initiative and skeptism toward collective activities. Compounding these problems have been the last fifteen years of continuing civil war and the international isolation of Cambodia following the Vietnamese liberation from Pol Pot in 1979.

In 1989, the State of Cambodia Government formally adopted a policy of privatisation, gradually begining the shift from a centrally planned, closed, socialist to an open, market based system. The Peace Accords, signed by all four warring factions in Paris 1991, laid the preconditions for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) which was to organise free and fair elections to return Cambodia to peace and a democratically elected government.

The outcome of the election has been a complex power sharing deal between the co-Prime Ministers, Hun Sen (CPP) and Prince Norodom Ranariddh (Funcipec). Although both Prime Ministers declare their support for the coalition, which they claim will continue until the 1998 election, the divide between them is widening as evident in Hun Sen’s blaming of Funcipec for the failure of the 1996 dry season offensive to capture the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin. The maintainence of democratic principles is tentative, with the government ordering all political parties, except the four represented in the National Assembly to cease their operations in early May 1996. The increasingly tight hold of the CPP over the coalition is threatening Cambodia’s economy and development.

Although UNTAC fulfilled its mandate, peace and democracy has not returned to the country in anything more than rhetoric.1 Of crucial importance though, UNTAC has furthered the process of opening Cambodia to the world and the international community, setting the foundation on which economic development and reconstruction could be built. Cambodia is planning to join ASEAN in 1997.

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