The government approved $157 million in projects Wednes-day aimed at building and restoring dilapidated irrigation systems across the country within the next three years.
Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor confirmed that the newly formed Council of Agriculture and Rural Develop-ment approved proposals by his ministry to develop about 40 projects in 13 provinces in the lowlands of Cambodia.
The projects are expected to be funded out of a $200 million loan package pledged by China following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s trip to Beijing.
Lim Kean Huor said that China made its pledge to help develop Cambodia’s agricultural system.
“We have approved specific development projects for irrigation infrastructure, so we are able to show China how specific proposals will be when completed and obtain an immediate loan,” Lim Kean Huor said after the Council’s meeting.
Hun Sen chaired the meeting.
“If the $157 million proposal is honored, this will help develop our agriculture very fast,” Lim Kean Huor said.
The rest of the Chinese money is expected to be used to improve roads, Lim Kean Huor added.
The 40 development projects would supply sufficient water to irrigate 558,621 hectares of land, Lim Kean Huor said.
Penn Thol, a government spokesman, told reporters in a briefing Wednesday that the proposed projects will include some dams around the Tonle Sap.
That could be of concern to environmentalists and fishery specialists, who worry about the impact on Cambodia’s river and lakes, which are rich in fish that provide the majority of protein in Cambodians’ diets.
Environmentalists and NGO advocates said recently that the public should participate in any discussion about dam development in Cambodia.
During the Council of Agriculture’s meeting, Hun Sen ordered Finance Minister Keat Chhon to ask Chinese officials to approve the loan as soon as possible.
Chinese embassy officials declined Thursday to comment on the loan package.
This year’s lowest-ever water level in lakes and rivers has affected fish and rice production.
Minister of Agriculture Chhea Song called the proposed projects a “gift for a better future.”
“If Cambodia has a good irrigation system, we can guarantee food security and can increase it,” Chhea Song said.
He said the government also will submit a proposal to donors later this month to fund the $200-million project Prek Thnowt Dam project.
But Lim Kean Huor said he doesn’t have much hope that donors will be interested in funding that project.