NGO: Land Clearing by River Endangering Fish

Increased land clearing along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, as well as the Tonle Sap lake, are put­ting Cambodia’s fish population at risk, an NGO official said Monday.

Mak Sothirith, executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said he and other FACT officials are worried that too much forested land along the lake and two rivers is being cleared by farmers looking for new land to plant rice during the dry season.

The forests become flooded dur­­ing the rainy season and provide a seasonal habitat for Cambodia’s fish population, much of which is swept down the Mekong and up the Tonle Sap.

It is in the flooded forests—which Mak Sothirith calls Cambodia’s “ecological supermarket” because of their varied number of fish and plants—where fish come to spawn and villagers can gather fish and vegetables.

The country’s ongoing drought is causing farmers to leave inland areas and move closer to rivers, where it is easier to capture wet season floodwater in reservoirs, which is then used to irrigate land during the dry season, Mak Soth­ir­ith said.

The flooded forests also provide balance to the natural land erosion that comes from seasonal flooding, he said.

If the forests aren’t there to provide a filter, then too much sediment will contaminate the river system, making it difficult for fish to survive, he said.

FACT does not have statistical evidence to back up the claim that flooded forests are being cleared at alarming rates, but Mak Sothir­ith said he is continually travelling along the Tonle Sap river and lake, and has gathered anecdotal information.

He said flooded forest area was measured by the government to be 362,000 hectares in 1991, down from 614,000 hectares in 1960 along just the Tonle Sap river and lake.

Veng Sokhon, secretary of state at the Ministry of Water Re­sour­ces and Meteorology, said Monday that about 300,000 hectares of dry season land, most of which is flooded forest, has been cleared along both the Tonle Sap and Me­kong rivers in the last 10 years.

“This is because of the growing human population,” he said.

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