Threatened by deforestation, Cambodia loses 26 per cent of its forests in 43 years

Growing demand for timber is the main cause with unsustainable development causing degradation for ecosystem and people. The country has about 8.7 million hectares of evergreen, semi-evergreen, deciduous and dry dipterocarp forests, and flooded forests. The UN offers some recommendations to change course.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Growing demand for timber as construction material, fuel and charcoal is devastating Cambodia's forests. In 1975, the latter covered 73 per cent of the country’s surface; last year it was down to only 46.84 per cent.

Cambodia’s forests – evergreen, semi-evergreen, deciduous and dry dipterocarp forests, and flooded forests – covered 8.7 million hectares in 2016. However, in its Human Development Report Cambodia 2019, published last week, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says that unsustainable developments such as economic land concessions, hydropower and mining projects, as well as illegal logging, have led to a spiral of degradation for both ecosystem and people.

“Mitigating this pressure and moving towards sustainable forest management starts with restoring degraded forests and bolstering productive capacity in the 15 per cent of forests currently reserved for timber harvesting (1.3 million hectares of 8.7 million hectares of forests overall,” the report says.

In order to ensure sustainable forest management, the UN offers some recommendations:  accurate and adequate data collection for an effective strategy and timely interventions; new policies to manage planted forests and minimise timber losses; a natural forest management strategy whilst raising awareness in local communities; and a comprehensive sustainable forestry management system. This entails effective law enforcement and building a formal timber legality assurance system.

On Monday, Cambodian Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the government had a clear strategic plan to manage and preserve natural resources and biodiversity.

He explained that the plan was drafted as forests play an important role in water catchment as well as in reducing the impact of natural disasters and climate change.

To do this, the government extended the natural protected area of 7.2 million hectares under the ministry, the equivalent of 41 per cent of the Kingdom’s land surface.