Professor Asit Biswas,
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It has been a pleasure to listen to Professor Biswas on issues concerning water management in the 21st century. I am very pleased that he is here with us today in Phnom Penh, and I am grateful to the Asian Development Bank that has brought him here under the auspices of the Phnom Penh Plan for Development Management. I am particularly delighted that Professor Biswas has challenged the conventional wisdom on water.
For Cambodia, water is central to our identity, as stone carvings at the ancient Bayon temple show that water and fish from the nearby Tole Sap (Great Lake) helped sustain an Angkorian empire that stretched well beyond its jungle capital. An efficient water management was the foundation of its civilization. Thanks to irrigation networks including reservoirs and canals, our Angkorian ancestors have been able to supply rice abundantly to the inhabitants of the vast empire.
We have abundant water and are considered a “water wealthy” country because of our location in the lower Mekong Basin. Water in Cambodia is sometimes referred to as “white gold”. The importance of water in Cambodian daily life and in the socioeconomic development process is reflected in Khmer sayings such as “Cultivate your paddy field with rice Make war with supply” or “wherever you have water, you have fishes.”
The Mekong River, the Tonle Sap Great Lake, and their tributaries, constitute an invaluable resource for fish production, irrigated agriculture, biological diversity, and water transport. We are fortunate. But we obviously have a heavy responsibility in ensuring the regular occurrence of this “white gold”. The way we manage our water resources is going to influence our efforts in reducing poverty in Cambodia.
Poverty reduction is the main plank of our Government’s development agenda. We have to put our country on the path to sustainable high growth. The contribution of water to poverty reduction in Cambodia is mainly through:
· improved rural livelihoods, food security, and nutrition
· improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation, with consequent reduced illness, mortality and loss of opportunity for work and education
· improved population security against natural disasters, especially floods and droughts to which we are sadly prone, with consequent reduced the dependence of our farmers on natural events, and reduced losses of property and crops, and
· sustained conservation of aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity, to provide a common property resource for the benefit of future generations
Let me touch on some of the challenges that we Cambodians face, and how we try and adapt to situations.
In the wet season, we often have too much that causes flooding, loss of life, loss of agricultural production, and damage to property and infrastructure. Ongoing flood forecasting along the Mekong River, or existing flood protection infrastructure, are insufficient to meet the threat of floods. We have to provide additional infrastructure. But we also have to look at non-structural means such as improved forecasting and warning systems, and community self-reliance flood risk reduction measures.
Cambodians have traditionally adjusted to seasonally high flows and even flooding when it is not too severe. They have learned to take advantage of their benefits to agriculture and fishing. Rain water harvesting and flood water trapping techniques, as well as flood recession cropping and fishing techniques have been developed over time and are common practices in rural Cambodia. However, in the current context of demographic and socio-economic growth, these practices also need to be further developed, improved, and managed differently.
During the long dry season, ponds, streams and rivers other than the major ones dry up. Water is short in supply in many places, except along a few principal rivers, even for domestic use, and many areas in our country face a growing competition for water. During the dry season, moreover, raw water (surface and groundwater) quality is increasingly degraded, which creates more competition for water of appropriate quality for drinking, livestock) ecosystem maintenance, etc. With agricultural development and intensification, and a growing urban population, water availability and quality is beyond doubt under increasing pressure.
The preservation of Mekong and Tonle Sap Basin is a big challenge for us in implementing water policy and water resource management. Increasing demands on their land, water, and biotic resources are threatening the lake’s fragile ecology. Threats to the lake include overexploitation of fisheries and wildlife. In the dry season, foraging and land clearing have reduced forests that, when flooded, act as a natural habitat for fish to breed. This has led to deterioration in water quality, as well as increasing siltation.
A coordinated approach is essential because of many conflicting demands on the river and lake: for agriculture, fish, water, transport, biodiversity, and hydropower. We are also aware of the need to cooperate to balance development with protection of natural resources and biodiversity. To get the right balance, there must be a strong cooperation and negotiating mechanism in managing different interests and viewpoints, involving the government, private sector, and civil society stakeholders on all levels.
Thus, we have recognized that a river basin development perspective is necessary to ensure that water is used to achieve the greatest net economic and social benefit. River basins are the fundamental units for planning and managing such resources, and are the basis of the hydrological cycle. They also provide the best framework for managing land use, capture fisheries, lake/wetland environments, forest, soil and other natural resources. Integrated water resource management in a river basin context is a relatively new concept to Cambodia, but our Government has declared its intention to adopt and promote it. Several pilot interventions are already ongoing while the Government is actively identifying further resources and institutional capacity building to fully institutionalize the approach.
During the 80’s and 90’s, the government has made tremendous efforts to repair much of Cambodia’s water-related infrastructure, especially for irrigation and drainage. However, irrigation water management is still undeveloped and water use efficiency and sharing are often substandard. Whether during the wet or the dry season, improved water control is essential to reduce farmers’ dependency on unreliable rainfall, or exposure to flood and enable agricultural production to increase. A wide range of interventions is possible. We have taken some key steps but more needs to be done. We need:
· to promulgate the draft law on water resource management in order to firmly and solidly lay the legal and institutional foundations of the country’s water sector}
· to further implement our strategic Plan on Water Resources Management and development (2004-2008) and prioritize the irrigation/drainage or other water-related facilities where rehabilitation and new construction will provide the greatest social and economic return on investment, while taking into account the many other factors that can increase economic growth.
· to mobilize communities to sustainably and efficiently participate in the management and maintenance of communal facilities since the
· Government does not have sufficient resources to carry all costs of construction, operation and maintenance of water related infrastructure and services <I
· to provide extensive community education and participation in management to address issues such as diffuse pollution, excessive water use, conflicts between water users, and encroachments on water courses
· to develop a legal basis and working arrangements for participatory management development, and transfer of management to the water user communities
At community and project levels, works should have a holistic, integrative design composed of three components:
· strengthening government institutions
· developing irrigation infrastructure and farmer groups to manage them
· providing irrigation farmers with better agricultural support services to maximize the benefits of the new irrigation systems
Financing the development of the water sector in Cambodia is an issue that our Government is seriously concerned with. We cannot rely on ODA for all times. We must make efforts to:
1. promote investment by the private sector (including individual farmers and community farmers) in the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities,
2. increase the recovery of costs from beneficiaries (which demands improvements in service delivery and numerous other measures)
3. increase national budgetary resources allocated for water resources management – this is not going to be easy given the large demands on our meager resources, but we have to be serious about water.
4. mobilize the generous contributions from all categories of the population including the monks in the construction of dikes, ponds, wells, as to foster the national effort to address the water issue.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has long developed its long term visions and commitment to water resource management. We devote one of our ministries to assume this responsibility. I have stated at many instances that the government of the 3rd mandate is a government dedicated to irrigation. We have put in place a Strategic Plan on Water Resource Management and Development 2004-2008 which is part of our National Strategic Development Plan. The plan has the ambition to achieve the following visions:
- Access for all to safe, adequate and affordable drinking water, hygiene and appropriate price,
- Provide sufficient water for agriculture, industry and economic activities,
- Tackle and minimize all forms of threat to life and livelihood as a result of water related hazards,
- Manage an unpolluted water resource environment
In my recent interventions, I have proposed water a high priority area in Cambodia’s future policy agenda. I hope this extended policy focus will have positive impacts and wider implication on our economic structure and its performance and change our water consumption and utilization behavior, resulting in a sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Finally, I am convinced that the efforts and resources we invest on water today will not only help promote our generation’s wellbeing but also save and sustain water for use by the generations to come.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to ADB, to the World Bank, to the government of France, the government of Japan, and others developments partners for providing their assistance in the rehabilitation of the water and irrigation networks in Cambodia.
Before closing, I must take this opportunity of recognizing one of Cambodia’s own water heroes. Like Professor Biswas who received the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize in 2006, Mr. Ek Sonn Chan, General Director of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, received this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. We are very proud of the work that Mr. Ek Sonn Chan and his team have done for the city of Phnom Penh, and the world class model utility that they have built with so much dedication and hard work. I hope that we can all learn and be inspired by this outstanding commitment to public service.
Professor Biswas, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have much to do in our country to maximize the benefits of our most precious natural resource. Cambodians know too well that water is life. Your address has inspired us to work harder to manage this precious resource for the benefit not only of this generation of Cambodians, but also the next. Thank you very much for coming to Cambodia and being with us today.