Environmental officials this week welcomed a new declaration by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to control illegal logging in Cambodia, but said they are skeptical the situation will dramatically improve.
Hun Sen last week laid out a plan to save forests that he acknowledged had been damaged more in the past four years than during any other period of Cambodia’s history.
The four-point measure, outlined in a speech commemorating the seventh anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, includes reviewing concession contracts, stopping new investment in wood processing, reforesting ravaged areas and preparing a forest-management decree.
Hun Sen’s plan comes on the heels of an order by Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor to crack down on the purchase, collection and transport of illegally harvested logs.
Chay Samith, acting conservation director, said the plan can only be successfully implemented once the cash-strapped government is strong financially. Government officials also need the technical expertise to manage the forests well, he said.
“I think the crackdown will get success at least 50 percent,” Chay Samith said.
From top to bottom, government officials enforcing the measures also must be well-paid so they aren’t susceptible to corruption, an environmental official said.
“Unless the law officials implement it, it will be in vain,” the environmental official said.
Global Witness, the London-based environmental watchdog, said by e-mail this week that it is impressed by Hun Sen’s declaration to stop illegal logging.
“His political will is essential to prevent the continuation of the uncontrolled and unsustainable illegal logging that is leading to the destruction of Cambodia’s forests,” wrote Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director. “He is right in that the last four years have been the forest’s worst, and he has to bear much of the responsibility for that—it is his signature that appears on [some of] the timber deals.”
But Alley noted that thus far the Cambodian government has paid just lip service to the problem.
In May, for example, the two prime ministers issued a nine-point order to combat illegal logging activities. Included was a moratorium on the “anarchic” cutting, collection, sale and transport of logs in concession and protected areas.
A group of people eating lunch Thursday on the peninsula along the Mekong River reported seeing two modern barges full of logs headed south toward Vietnam, and one empty barge headed north.
Global Witness and World Bank-funded consultants both have recently concluded that Cambodia’s commercially valuable timber will be essentially depleted within five years if current harvesting rates are allowed to continue.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Smith)