The government has no clear strategy to manage the Tonle Sap Basin, and inefficiency and overlapping responsibilities among government institutions have led to ineffective protection and management of the lake, according to a new draft report by a prominent international conservation organization released yesterday.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s draft report “Ebb and Flow: Tonle Sap Basin” reviewed the challenges facing the lake’s ecosystem and the roughly 4 million people who depend on it, while also analyzing some of the projects and policies undertaken by the government, NGOs and international donors.
“[U]nderlying some, if not all, of these challenges… are an array of institutional and governance arrangements that do not… ensure the effective and efficient implementation of laws and policies, projects and mitigation efforts” in the Basin, IUCN concluded.
Government management of the Tonle Sap is currently “highly complex,” with responsibility spread across a number of institutions, the report said, adding that “specific strategies considering the unique requirements of the Basin do not exist.”
The report also said that the activities of the Tonle Sap Authority-created in 2001 to manage the Basin-were “unclear,” while its “role in managing and evaluating projects in the Basin has yet to be seen.”
IUCN calculated that international donors had spent or committed $1.75 billion since 1998 on 261 projects in the six provinces that make up the Tonle Sap Basin, which, despite these efforts, remains the poorest region of Cambodia.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia is the focal point for coordinating this slew of projects, but according to the report, CDC’s decision-making process is not transparent, and laws and regulations regarding these projects are not always followed.
The draft report was presented at a conference organized by IUCN in Phnom Penh yesterday, where environmentalists and government officials discussed the state and management of the Tonle Sap.
Prach Sun, secretary of state at the Environment Ministry, said the loss of flooded forest around the lake due to the expansion of large-scale commercial rice farms was a major threat.
The government recently estimated that a third of the lake’s 1 million hectares of forest have been lost since 2005, and officials have begun to demolish dozens of man-made irrigation reservoirs in order to protect the floodplains, while also demarcating a 640,000-hectare conservation zone.
“National institutions, local authorities, communities, local and international organizations are working hard… to conserve, develop and manage the wetlands,” Mr Sun said. “However, because of the encroachment and destruction of the ecological system [of] the Tonle Sap, concerns have increased.”
Long Sochet, 52, deputy director of Koh Prek-Raing Toel fishing community in Pursat province, said local officials were hampered in their efforts to protect the lake by a lack of clarity about institutional responsibilities.
“There are too many overlapping powers among government officials–all kinds of fishing offenses happen, and there is no person really responsible,” he said at the conference.