Continuing poverty will hurt efforts to protect the environment, particularly in Southeast Asia, where rampant logging has resulted in the destruction of large swaths of forest and the animal species living in them, officials said Tuesday during a regional environmental meeting.
The UN-sponsored meeting was held in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held next year in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The 2002 summit will be a reassessment of the UN Conference on Environment and De-velopment—known as the Earth Summit—held 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth stressed poverty reduction as a vital component of sustainable development. “We have learned much about sustainable development [since Rio], but our actions have not been in accord with that knowledge,” he said.
Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the region despite a wealth of natural resources, many of which are still over-exploited by businessmen and government alike.
David Chanaiwa, a Cambodian attorney, expressed reservations that Cambodia is capable of implementing new provisions. “We can’t accomplish anything without a more legitimate justice system,” he said. “Factories come to Cambodia because it is so easy to get around Cambodia’s environmental laws.”
Chanaiwa said Cambodia has only 27 laws on environmental protection and natural resource management. “The law is so small, you can learn [it all] in one hour,” he said.
An alternate meeting held earlier this week in Phnom Penh, the Asian Regional People’s Forum, articulated the concerns of community groups and NGOs, some of which have felt marginalized by the UN program. One participant noted that power is concentrated in a few countries and multinational corporations.
Chee Yok Ling of the Malaysian NGO Third World Network said that sustainable development has been impeded by a concentration of power in the hands of countries and multi-national corporations.
“Competition [among corporations] and survival of the fittest is not sustainable development,” she said, adding that organizations like the “IMF and WTO paradigm” have “forced us to open our markets, but the poorest people always suffer.”