Wetlands dominate the Cambodian landscape, with large expanses of land inundated during the wet season. Despite their ubiquity, however, the concept of wetlands remained unfamiliar to most Cambodians until the 1990s. It was during this time that Cambodia became a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, and an official Cambodian term for wetlands – ‘dambon dey saeum’ – was formalized in a government decree, greatly facilitating communication and increasing awareness of the concept. Nevertheless, wetlands in Cambodia remain threatened, primarily by the overexploitation of wetland resources and by conversion to land for agricultural expansion and human settlement.
The institutional arrangements governing the management of wetlands in Cambodia are highly complex and involve a large number of agencies operating under various ministries. In part, this institutional complexity reflects the diversity of wetland uses and functions across a broad range of sectors, which includes agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water resources, environmental management, transport, and tourism.
As a result of this institutional complexity, coordination and cooperation between the various agencies responsible for different aspects of wetlands management is difficult and slow. There is currently no inter-ministerial coordinating mechanism for wetlands planning and management at the national level. The overlapping and poorly defined jurisdictions of managing agencies lead to ineffective enforcement and, consequently, resource use goes largely unregulated. This in turn gives rise to conflict among resource users, between managing agencies, and even between countries.
Much decision-making authority concerning wetlands management still resides with the central government. This top-down approach to resource governance causes delays, and means that the flexibility required to respond to problems at the local level is lacking. Although there have been some attempts to devolve power to local authorities and to increase the involvement of local communities in wetlands management, progress has been slow. There are still no clear regulations on community participation and on the rights of local people to voice their concerns.
The legal framework governing wetlands management rests upon legislation vested in government agencies responsible for resource use (Fishery Law 1987), land use planning (Land Law 2001), and environmental conservation (Environmental Law 1996; Royal Decree on the Designation and Creation of National Protected Areas System 1993). However, none of these laws deal directly with the issue of wetland management and conservation in a holistic and integrated manner. This lack of a clear legal basis for wetlands management has led to conflicts about inequitable resource use, and to a decline in the resource base itself. Currently, the only law explicitly concerned with wetlands is that which prescribes Cambodia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention, but even this does not provide specific legal tools regulating the use and protection of wetland resources. Moreover, the lack of an agreed-upon wetlands classification system has hindered the drafting of management and conservation plans.
In response to these shortcomings, the Wetlands Alliances decided to facilitate a more holistic integrated perspective on wetland management in two different areas, represent two important categories of wetlands for Cambodia: In Stung Treng-Kratie a number of important inland wetlands are found. Kampot- Kep in coastal Cambodia represent some important marine and estuarine wetlands in Cambodia.
Cambodia Coastal Wetlands
Coastal wetlands in Cambodia have not received the same attention as freshwater wetlands. However, in the recent years, coastal Cambodia has been gaining attention because of the recognition that many rural poor depend on coastal resources.
The main issues arising from the consultation process to date concern livelihoods of people living in coastal communities. Major concerns are access to resources due to unclear policies and regulations; declining fishery resources; destructive fishing; conflicts among various aquatic resource users; limited or no other means of livelihood; no effective monitoring, control and surveillance systems in place; and lack of institutional and technical capacity.
Management of the resources and livelihoods options can be achieved through a better understanding of the potential of coastal habitats and their use, integrating fisheries into habitat conservation and management, promotion of co-management arrangements in community fisheries, stakeholder involvement and cooperation and comprehensive livelihood plan and programs for coastal communities, both technically and entrepreneurally.
Geographic focus, Implementation and Ownership
The province of Kampot and the municipality of Kep were identified as areas of interest after the series of consultations conducted in coastal Cambodia for the past 5 months.
The coastal area of Kampot and Kep is closely linked to Phu Quoc Island, which is part of Kien Giang Province in Vietnam. Discussions on trans-boundary issues, i.e. resources use and conservation, navigation and other related issues will be led by Southeast Asia Fishery Development Center (SEAFDEC) in cooperation with other inter-government organizations.
Based on the results of the consultations to date with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DoNRE), Provincial Fishery Offices and the Coastal Recourse Center in Kampot and Kep, partners have initially agreed to work together using the existing structure established through the DANIDA ICZM Project. The Provincial Fishery Office will be the lead as WAP’s local partner in planning and implementing activities. Another key partner will be Commune Councils supported through Seila. The Provincial Fishery Office, being the lead agency under the ICZM structure, will work through the Commune Councils and community fisheries committees and have a role in informing the Provincial planning process. In terms of training, the Office of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training in the Province will become part of the ICZM structure. Focal activity areas include:
Coastal resources mapping
Adopting existing or designing commune plans to improve livelihood
Trainers’ training and capacity building for staff of the Provincial Training Center of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training
Establish collaborative mechanisms between local governments of Kep/Kampot in Cambodia and Phu Quoc, Kien Giang Province in Vietnam in implementing habitat management for livelihood improvement involving trans-boundary issues
Developing community common laws
Cambodia Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces
The stretch of the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces of Northeast Cambodia up to the Lao border retains more of its natural ecology than almost any other parts of the river. Deep pools, rapids, braided channels, islands and riverbanks with relatively intact vegetation cover provide a variety of habitats that, together with a still relatively natural seasonal flow regime and unpolluted water, combine to support a wide range of aquatic species including fish, amphibians and reptiles, mollusks and crustaceans, as well as water birds and mammals. This also is the only stretch of the river where Irrawaddy dolphins are still found. Many of these species are important sources of food and income for local communities, for whom the river is also a source of water for drinking, bathing, irrigation and washing away their waste.
This stretch of the river is also important for maintaining downstream fisheries productivity, as many migratory species breed here or pass upstream through this area to breed in the Se San, Srepok and Sekong tributaries. Many of the species associated with the river are important sources of food and income for local communities, for whom the river is also a source of water for drinking, bathing, irrigation and washing away their waste. In addition, tourism is starting to grow, with around 10,000 foreign visitors and 80,000 Cambodian tourists visiting the area in 2005.
The continued ecological health of this stretch of the river, and in turn its ability to continue to support reasonable livelihoods for the people living along its length, will be determined not only by what happens in the area itself, but also by what happens upstream – which may effect the quantity and quality of the water in the river, the diurnal and seasonal flow patterns, the amount and type of silt transported in the water and the accumulation of toxic substances at certain points in the system.
Already the Yali dam on the upstream part of the Se San in Vietnam has had severe impacts on the water flow downstream, and latest reports show a 63% reduction in fish catches in the lower Se San, affecting the livelihoods of up to 50,000 people. Up to six more dams are planned on the Vietnamese part of the Se San, in addition to the two dams on the Lower Srepok.
Uncontrolled and mostly illegal small-scale gold mining in the Srepok in Cambodia, and to some extent the Sekong in Laos, are causing mercury and cyanide pollution, as well as affecting sediment loads and turbidity of the water. Small-scale illegal logging and clearance of land alongside upgraded roads by speculators, as well as deforestation in Vietnam are affecting sediment loads through increased erosion, whilst deforestation and excessive extraction of water for coffee irrigation are affecting hydrological functions.
Local communities are already noticing declining fisheries, which can be partially attributed to increasing fishing pressure, use of non-selective gear, poisons and explosives. Large-scale mortality of dolphin calves in the last two years may indicate some form of bioaccumulation or bio-magnification of a toxic substance in the water.
WWF in collaboration with Kratie and Stung Treng Department of Fisheries, have requested the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, to allow the time for community consultation and socio-economic surveys to assess the likely ramifications of the ban before it is enforced. If the government agrees, then one of the first tasks of the Wetlands Alliance would be to support local government to work on a process of surveys and consultations to develop recommendations for implementation of the conservation zones, and develop plans for development of alternative or supplementary livelihoods. This would be conducted by a multi-agency team including fisheries, agriculture, and rural development.
Implementation and Ownership
The Wetland Alliance in NE Cambodia seeks to build on a range of previous interventions and capacity building initiatives undertaken by WAP partners and others. These include the AIT Aqua Outreach Programme in NE Cambodia, The WorldFish Wetlands Approach and IFReDI (Department of Fisheries) capacity building efforts; The MWBP and CEPA “Salaphoum” action research initiatives; The Provincial Pollution Control Departments initiatives concerning small-scale gold mining MRC and Provincial transboundary agreements and WWF activities in NE Cambodia including the Dolphin project. The WAP has also sought to create ownership from the start through discussion with stakeholders regarding wetland issues and concerns. The activities themselves will seek to create ownership of the outputs by ensuring that the relevant stakeholders are involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of information generating and capacity building initiatives. This will have the additional crucial benefit of ensuring that the activities and outputs are locally relevant.
WAP will be implemented primarily through Provincial government agencies. Cambodia’s key decentralization structure, supported by Seila, will be one key partner along with Provincial Departments of Fisheries. One of the recommendations from the AIT Aqua Outreach programme was to work with the Seila structure. Continuation of consultations will determine key implementing partners WAP could work with in Stung Treng and Kratie. Focal activity areas include:
Strengthening the capacity of fishery sector agencies and local planning institutions on aquatic resource management.
Developing local capacity to conserve riparian and forest vegetation.
Developing capacity of local change agents to respond to changing environments
Developing Provincial department of agriculture and rural development NGOs capacity for livelihood improvement
Developing focal area communications
Activities in Cambodia
- Coastal resources mapping
- Adopting existing or designing commune plans to improve livelihood
- Trainers’ training and capacity building for staff of the Provincial Training Center of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training
- Establish collaborative mechanisms between local governments of Kep/Kampot in Cambodia and Phu Quoc, Kien Giang Province in Vietnam in implementing habitat management for livelihood improvement involving trans-boundary issues
- Developing community common laws
- Strengthening the capacity of fishery sector agencies and local planning institutions on aquatic resource management
- Developing local capacity to conserve riparian and forest vegetation
- Developing capacity of local change agents to respond to changing environments
- Developing Provincial department of agriculture and rural development NGOs capacity for livelihood improvement
- Developing focal area communications