Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honor for me today to address the opening session of the Second International Symposium on the Management of Large Rivers for Fisheries – “Sustaining Livelihoods and Biodiversity in the New Millennium”.
On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, and myself, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all participants and especially those international visitors who have come from every continent and represent all major river systems in the world to Phnom Penh -the fast changing capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This is a global event of great importance in the fields of fisheries and rivers management that has not been held since 1985.
Cambodia is therefore very proud to host such an important event of international cooperation after the successful conclusion of the first GMS Summit, the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN Plus Three and Plus One Summits with China, Japan and South Korea, ASEAN Plus India Summit, ASEAN-South Africa Special Meeting in early November last year and the recent success of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF). Through all these important meetings, the Royal Government of Cambodia has made its best effort in moving Cambodia forward and showed the world that Cambodia has transformed from a region of uncertainty, civil strife, backwardness and instability to become a country of peace, prosperity, cooperation and development, strengthened by its growing self-confidence. In this spirit, we would like to reiterate once again that we will never fail and, however, will work much harder to promote the cellular of peace in Cambodian society, and we have also determined that by the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, we will turn Cambodia into an important part of the Greater Mekong Sub-region and become a pole of economic growth and sustainable development.
In this regard, I highly appreciate the efforts of the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, and the Mekong River Commission for jointly preparing and organizing this very important international event dedicating to sustaining livelihoods and biodiversity in this millennium. This topic itself is at the heart of the current policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia for improving the livelihood of its people, and sustainable development.
In the Lower Mekong River Basin, the Mekong River Commission, and its predecessors, namely the international Mekong Committee and Interim Mekong Committee, have played a remarkable role in turning potential conflict into a potential for mutually beneficial cooperation. They have done this through jointly investigating ways of improving our understanding of this mighty, but then less known river, and planning for harnessing its potentials. These efforts are driven by knowledge of the abundant resources within the Basin, the expectation of its people for improved livelihoods, and the need for access to natural resources so that they can feed their families and provide livelihoods for themselves.
The outcomes of your efforts and deliberations at this symposium will be used to help make better decisions on fisheries management around the world. This knowledge and insight will certainly be of great value to the Mekong River -one of the world greatest rivers -that supports one of the most productive and diverse freshwater eco-systems in the world. For centuries, the river has played an important role in the economic and cultural life of the people living in and depending on the rich natural assets of the Mekong Basin. Covering over 86% of the Cambodian territory, the Mekong River Basin plays a very important role in the socio-economic and cultural life of this country. This symposium will also help to raise public awareness about the ecological, social, cultural, and economic importance of large rivers and the fisheries they support.
Improving the management of natural resources is a key issue for people all over the world, and the Mekong region, and Cambodia are no exception. Our Mekong basin is uniquely blessed, with amazing wealth and diversity in history, culture, geography, flora and fauna. I learn that the symposium organizers have also arranged optional tours to Angkor and other fishery trips for you. From those visits, I do hope you will gain more first hand knowledge of the complex hydrological, ecological, social and cultural conditions of this Mekong River and its populations. Back in history, there were great civilizations flourishing along the Mekong River. The glorious Angkor civilization is vivid evidence indicating crucial role of the large river in the development of human environments. Zhou Daguan, a Chinese envoy and historian who lived at Angkor in the late 13th Century, described the Angkor Empire, that dominated most of the present day mainland Southeast Asia from 800 to 1430 AD, as a civilization that flourished on the success of its water and related resources’ management. Many spectacular carvings on the walls of many ruined temples of Angkor bear witness to the richness of fishery resources and their importance to people’s daily livelihood.
In present day Cambodia, the Tonle Sap Great Lake, Mekong River and flood plains, are still endowed with huge fisheries. There are more than one hundred different fish species, indispensable to the food security, income and employment of the people of the Basin. For Cambodian people, fish is a most important resource for protein and calcium in the diet, a key factor in the growth of young children. MRC’s recent studies of fish consumption in the region show that each Cambodian consumes an average of 47 kilograms annually. The Mekong fish resource represents huge potential for the socio- economic development of Cambodia and other Mekong countries.
Sustainable and equitable management of this important natural resource constitutes an important part in the Royal Cambodian Government’s Policies. In late 2000, I initiated a bold plan to ensure proper management of the fishery sector, by ensuring greater levels of access to this resource by the poor through the development of various community- based fisheries, co-management, and reallocating and reducing the commercial fishing lots. Capacity and institutional building in this sector is also high on our agenda. Greater efforts have been made in developing more appropriate fishery legislation and regulation. The first Inland Fishery Research and Development Institute set-up with the assistance of the Danish Government through MRC Fisheries Programme is ready for opening. I hope that Institute will assist in developing a new generation of fishery officers and improving information and knowledge sharing.
The Royal Government of Cambodia is actively pursuing policies for poverty reduction for its people at present, most of whom are living with and relying on the rich resources of the Mekong River Basin. We are doing this through sustainable development of water and its related natural resources. Hence, the sustainable development of natural resources is a key element of the strategy of the Royal Government of Cambodia and we place great emphasis on consultations between government, civil society organizations, and other interested parties over the management of resources.
This symposium will contribute to the ongoing debate in our country, as in others, on how best to use and develop the resources of our nation today while safeguarding the right of future generations to enjoy them tomorrow. Allow me to take a few minutes to brief you on the Royal government of Cambodia’s decisive efforts to ensure proper management of this invaluable natural asset -fishery. Our top priority in ensuring environmental cooperation within the region is the management of the Mekong River.
As riparian nations, our histories and livelihoods are linked to the ebb and flow of the Mekong. We may suffer from the Mekong’s abnormal floods, yet the rich soil it distributes and the fish it nurtures sustain us. Because of our common dependence on its riches, the Mekong River is now under increasing pressure. We see the signs of such stress in erosion, siltation and changes in water currents. Also observed has been some reduction in fishery resources, impediments to river transportation and exceptional flooding.
Coming to this point, may I draw participants’ attention to a vital issue regarding the flow regime of the Mekong River. Given that the change of flow regime is a critical factor in the annual flood levels that sustain the region’s fisheries, traditional livelihoods and biodiversity, the Upstream countries’ projects in the Mekong River, namely the continued dam constructions and commercial navigation plan, have become a major concern for the downstream countries including Cambodia. The possible impacts for Cambodia that many have foreseen are: The Tonle Sap could dry up, ending the famous river fishing industry and causing widespread flooding; and eventually the home of endangered fish would be destroyed. The dry of theTonle Sap, believe me, will not just affect Cambodia but the whole region. A study to look at the downstream impacts is urgently needed for the sustainability of resources management in the Mekong.
All these concerns urgently require our unified attention. The efforts of all agencies concerned with the development of the Mekong River Basin need to be well-coordinated and strengthened. To that end the Mekong River Commission is playing a very important role. For the sake of our common futures, we must implement a Mekong management strategy that ensures sustainability. At the same time, the work of the Mekong River Commission and the GMS program should be a synergy for the sustainable development of the Mekong given that the management of the Mekong River, including fisheries are of highest priority within the GMS strategic framework.
It is critical that we raise the level of understanding of river resources and how to manage them. The symposium will help people from all major river systems to learn from each other, including from people working in fisheries in more developed rivers. We can learn from their experiences, their successes and their mistakes. In Cambodia, as in other less developed countries, we put a great focus on building the capacity of our people. Symposia such as these enable our people to gather new knowledge and experience that is very valuable to the development of Cambodia. Also, Cambodia has one of the world’s most productive fisheries in the Tonle Sap and we believe that people from other regions can learn valuable lessons from the experiences we have had in managing our fishery.
Before I conclude I would like to take this opportunity to thank once again the Cambodian Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Mekong River Commission for convening this symposium. I congratulate them for their efforts and the successful cooperation that has made the hosting of LARS2 in Cambodia possible. I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, as well as the other organizations that have provided support and assistance.
The agenda of this symposium is an ambitious one: to bring together and share the latest cutting edge research on the status and management of large rivers, thereby contributing to the sustainable management of these critical natural resources. However, I have great faith that with the collective expertise of the world’s leading fisheries and rivers specialists, this symposium will be a great success.
To follow the above comments that I have made, I have the honor to declare the Second International Symposium on the Management of Large Rivers for Fisheries open from now on. May I extend to you all my best wishes for an excellent outcome in your deliberations and I also hope you will have a good time and sweet memory during your safe stay in Cambodia. I sincerely thank all of you for your attention.