Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon
The Phnom Penh Post, Tue, 10 November 2015
If global temperatures continue to rise, Cambodia’s dependence on fishing and its under-developed healthcare and sanitation sectors will make it particularly exposed to the adverse effects of climate change, according to a World Bank report published on Sunday.
The report, titled Shock Waves, characterises poverty and climate change as “the two defining issues of our time”, and says that achieving development targets such as the recently updated UNDP Sustainable Development Goals requires policy solutions to address those issues where they intersect – such as the areas of food security and public health.
The World Bank report names Cambodia among other “fishing dependent” countries as being at risk because “fishing activities are poorly regulated” and “are very vulnerable to the combined impact of climate change and overexploitation”.
Napoleon Navarro, head of policy at UNDP Cambodia, pointed to the country’s dependence on the Mekong and Tonle Sap waterways as a major source of protein from fish.
“Fish catch has not been good for two years in a row. Research has even raised the possibility of fish supply significantly declining over the next decades, because of the combination of climate change and the hydropower network in the upper Mekong,” he said via email.
Yet-to-be-published findings presented at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Phnom Penh two weeks ago suggest Cambodia may lose over 50 per cent of its freshwater fish production.
Navarro said the “Government is already encouraging aquaculture and protecting the remaining fish habitats on the Tonle Sap, and should continue to do so”.
The effects of climate change on the Mekong Region’s water flows and seasonal shifts may already be impacting fish production, said Eng Cheasan, director general of the Fishery Administration, who pointed to current water levels being 2.9 metres lower than last year.
However, the report notes, the impacts are not limited to fish production. Climate change is also likely to favour vector-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and water-borne illnesses such as diarrhoea.
Data included in the report shows that less than 10 per cent of the poorest 40 per cent of Cambodians have access to basic sanitation, which is likely to exacerbate the dangers posed by increasing incidences of water-borne illness.
The WHO in Cambodia and the Ministry of Health have been working on projects to address diseases made worse by climate change, said WHO Cambodia officer Dr Steven Iddings, who stressed the interconnectedness of climate change and development issues.
“The wash issues, the sanitation issues and the likelihood of increasing problems with longer dry spells and wetter wet periods and more extreme weather events that could be expected with the advent of climate change – they’re all interconnected,” he said.