Workshop Looks at Environment Strategies

For the past two years, a team at the Ministry of Environment has been analyzing climate change and making an inventory of greenhouse gases in hopes of minimizing their adverse effects.

The project, funded by the UN, hasn’t been easy.

“In other countries, you would go to other departments and pick up data—pollution, meteorology and so on,” said Tin Ponlok, national project coordinator for the Ministry of Environment.

Here “data management is very poor, if not nonexistent,” he said. The project’s staff has had to start from scratch in many cases and generate primary data.

But the government is hoping its dedication to improving the environment will make up for its lack of resources and knowledge in trying to secure UN funding for similar projects.

“We still have a lot to do in the field of environment,” Envi­ronment Minister Mok Mareth told UN representatives Wed­nesday at the opening of a four-day workshop on the UN’s Glo­bal Environment Facility program, which funds projects in developing countries.

More than 100 people from various government ministries, international agencies, NGOs and the private sector have gathered to discuss how Cambodia’s environment goals fit within the GEF project requirements

The benefits to Cambodia could be huge. As of July 2000, the GEF’s reserves topped $3.1 billion. Cambodia is one of 50 developing countries where GEF officials are meeting over three years to discuss coordinating future environmental projects, said Ton Boon von Ochssee, GEF country relations manager.

It takes commitment on the part of a government for a country to be chosen for discussions, he said. “Cambodia has implemented a lot of strategies,” thus qualifying, he added.

The GEF was launched 10 years ago during the Earth Sum­mit of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to address environmental issues on a global scope. Today, 167 member countries, including Cam­bodia, participate in its activities.

The GEF already is funding some small, short-term activities in Cambodia, including the climate study and the biodiversity project, meant to ensure that development decisions take into account protecting natural re­sources. But the fact that the environmental field involves specific knowledge and experience that few people in Cambodia have makes environmental protection more difficult, said Lay Khim, the Ministry of Environment’s technical team leader assigned to the biodiversity project.

Cambodia also faces the challenge of training staff while the project is ongoing.

Portions of the work for the climate-change project were meant to be contracted out to experts. But, Tin Ponlok said, “How can you build [human resource] capacity if one subcontracts?”

Tin Ponlok convinced GEF that Cambodians should learn on the job, only using technical assistance. “We started by learning acronyms,” he quipped.

But Tin Ponlok said three years is not enough for the task at hand. The biodiversity and climate projects have budgets ranging from $325,000 to $350,000.

To Gary, secretary of state for the Ministry of Environment, said Cambodia should apply for bigger projects. “I’m not thinking of $300 million like China,” he said, but projects in the vicinity of $5 million to $10 million would be welcome to address the country’s environmental needs, he said.

Mok Mareth agreed that GEF’s help is needed. “We see the GEF as an important mechanism that can assist the country to meet its challenges.”

The workshop, held at Hotel Le Royal, concludes Friday.



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