Nick Beresford, Country Director, opening remarks at Sub-national Consultative Meeting: Draft Phnom Kulen National Park Management Plan

Apr 28, 2017

Waterfall at Phnom Kunlen National Park (Photo: ©LyHengHoeung)

Excellency Mr. So Khan Rithykun, Deputy Secretary of State, Ministry of Environment
Excellency Mr. Kim Chhay Heang, Deputy Governor of Siem Reap
Excellency Dr. Chea Sam Ang, Director General of GDANCP
Excellencies, Senior Officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Distinguished Guests,
Excellencies, Senior Officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m very pleased to join you in this important sub-national consultative meeting. There are some interesting findings and exciting policy suggestions coming from this work and I look forward to a good discussion today. My thanks to USAID and the Government of Japan for their funding and technical expertise, and to our Government lead partners in the General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection (GDANCP), Ministry of Environment and to the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD).

I’d like to put this subject into a broader context. The breakneck speed of development here in Cambodia is a remarkable achievement. In the last 15 years, the economy has more than tripled in size and we’ve seen poverty more than halved.  It is all the more impressive when we stop and consider the tragic history of conflict and civil war over so many years, that only really came to an end as recently as the 1990’s. The focus on private sector growth, with an emphasis on industries needing large numbers of unskilled labour, has served the country well. It created growth that was shared by the poor and helped lift millions over the poverty line.

But the policies that got us here may not be the same ones we need going forward. As a rapidly growing middle income country, Cambodia’s policy needs are now much more sophisticated. That need for a new and well-tailored mix of strategies is well illustrated in our subject today: a draft management plan for Kulen Mountain National Park.

Let’s just consider for a moment what’s at stake. Kulen Mountain is considered the most sacred in Cambodia and the birthplace of the Cambodian Kingdom. More than 50 ancient temples and sites date back as far as the Eighth and Ninth Century. Not only that, but in parts of the forest that remain, it is home to some of the world’s most precious and endangered species. These treasures, if lost, are literally irreplaceable. This historical and natural wealth is not just the possession of the current generation. It is the birthright and inheritance of our children and grandchildren. So, it is our duty to ensure we pass on these gifts on as they were given to us.

Kulen Mountain National Park is a home for many communities depending on income from tourism, agriculture and forest resources. So in our approach to conserving the park and temples, we must ensure we put people and communities at the centre of that discussion.  I’m pleased to see that they are being represented and included in the decision-making process.

Some communities may need to be relocated where it is accepted and where all other workable solutions cannot be found. If that is so, then it must be ensured that the rights of those people are respected and that they are offered good alternative settlement options.  A thorough social and environmental risk assessment is essential in this respect.

Time is running out. The aquifers are increasingly stressed and while some forest remains, most has either disappeared or is heavy denuded.  Forest cover has fallen from about 42% in 2003 to about 25% presently. If this trend is allowed to continue, the natural forests of PKNP may completely disappear within the next 5-10 years. So, we need to act fast.

But the news is not all bad. While we often hear negative stories on forestry, we forget there are positive ones too. Yesterday I was in Preynob mangrove forest, just outside Sihanouk Ville. I met with local representatives from the Department of Fisheries, our project team and most importantly with the local community. That community had recently experienced a land dispute with not one but 2 powerful business interests. Through the community’s’ legal registration with the Department of Fisheries and their collective action, they successfully brokered an agreement to have their land returned. They are replanting mangroves and making a good living from the rich resources of crab, fish, shrimp and shell fish. If we can make the system work there, then it is at least possible we can do the same elsewhere.

I mentioned earlier the need for policies that are sophisticated and carefully tailored to the context.  One reason for this is the intimate connections between the needs of people of Kulen Mountain, the natural resources and the ancient temples. That interdependency extends to the whole Siem Reap city and surrounding areas, including the Angkor Wat temples themselves.  It is the Kulen Mountain aquifer that maintains the stability of the Temples of Angkor. All of the 36 headwaters of the Siem Reap River are located inside Kulen Mountain National Park so the whole water supply of the city is dependent on the protection of these natural resources.

The interdependency is not just a threat, but also an opportunity. The huge income from tourism to the temples can be used to finance the environmental and social changes needed. This could be envisaged in a Payment for Eco Systems or PES. Cambodia’s famously dynamic private sector can continue to thrive but then also to support the conservation of the resources upon which that industry depends. We should not always look to Government to fund through taxation and with such a thriving tourist industry the resources are certainly there.

As a final point, there are a number of agencies currently at work in the area: the Ministries of Environment, Tourism, Culture and Fine Arts. There are forest rangers and the APSARA Authority. The draft management plan before us offers a further opportunity to see how all parts of the RGC can best work together in ensuring Kulen Mountain is preserved and that the communities prosper. In doing so, empowering those communities and giving them leading roles can help make the work more powerful and effective.

I look forward to the presentations and discussions today, and wish everybody a successful and enjoyable conference.