The U.S. government announced yesterday that it would prematurely end a $21 million forest protection program in Cambodia, marking a new downturn in relations between the two nations. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh stated that that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would stop funding the Greening Prey Lang project because Cambodia’s government was not doing enough to stop deforestation in protected areas.
The Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, whose 3.3 million hectares sprawl across four provinces in the northeast of Cambodia, is the largest contiguous area of lowland dry evergreen and semi-evergreen forest left in mainland Southeast Asia, and is a crucial biodiversity area that is home to dozens of endangered plant and animal species.
But since 2016, the same year that the Cambodian government designated Prey Lang a protected area, the sanctuary has lost 38,000 hectares of forest – nearly 9 percent of its total, the embassy statement claims. Despite USAID’s support for increased ranger patrols, training of law enforcement, and development of a national protected area management system, it added, “the situation is worsening.”