Zone III – Water and Freshwater Swamp Forest
It is indeed a great chance I have to come to meet with people in the village of Kok Trabek in the commune of Sralao, Baray district of Kompong Thom province. I am very grateful to all information and clarification as to how the problems in Zone III or Freshwater Swamp Forest Area here have been resolved. People living in this area normally live six months with flood per annum. It has been a unique chance for me to learn more about their way of dealing with issues facing their community such as education, health, cultivation and so on.
I have learnt about this village from the media. My wife and I have learnt about life of villagers of Kok Trabek thanks to the CTN TV program, which has sent its working team all the way to the village so as to conduct an interview with Kunthea, who left the village when he was nine years old to pursue his study in Phnom Penh in 1996. I have provided some form of assistance to the Pagoda Boy Association in cash and rice, from where Kunthea benefited in his endeavor to get education away from home.
Late in the night I saw a program on CTN in which head of the village and party were interviewed and they were talking about their hardships and were asking for some kind of health clinic. I called HE Thaong Khon, Minister of Tourism and leader of CPP work team for Baray district to find out more about the village.
As a pagoda boy myself, who left family in search for education when I was 13 years old, I understand Kunthea’s condition and difficulties. As I mention on various occasions that I am proud of my past as a pagoda boy and more so with that of Kunthea, who was also a pagoda boy. He finished the senior secondary school in Kompong Thom and went to Phnom Penh where he finally took shelter in the pagoda of Neakavoan. It was there he got acquainted with the Pagoda Boy Association. It was till early 2000 that he received my scholarship to continue his post secondary school education.
What has been astonishing is that he has developed his ability through study with peers to become a songwriter who composed some 900 songs already. He could be acknowledged to be one of the writers who write many poems but no one knows him. On May 5, I invited and his wife to see my wife and me at home so I could learn more about him and his life, but also discuss about requests made from the village.
The village condition of Kok Trabek, life as pagoda boy of the Kunthea – the villager, and the proposal from the people of Kok Trabek have been three impressions for my wife and I to find time in our very busy schedule to come and talk to our people today. Upon returning from Jakarta, my wife and I are of similar idea that we set the date to come to visit our people here. We would like to come sooner but prior engagements have required more immediate attention and also we need to let experts study about all matters concerned not only this village but also the Tonle Sap lake basin.
I would like to express my sincere thanks for all concerned, especially HE Thaong Khon for the great efforts he has made to attract supports in dealing with issues that I have roughly mentioned earlier. I would like to speak to those living in the Tonle Sap basin that we are working out a solution not only for those in Kompong Thom but also – where the three provincial boundaries meet here – Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Cham too.
From this freshwater swamp forest forum I have the duty to declare a political framework for sustaining the Tonle Sap Lake, especially the Zone III. Developments in the recent years have been of great concern. I would like to draw everyone’s attention on the matter that if we want to have eggs every day we have to keep the hen alive and feed her. If we kill the hen, we would get one good feast but we no longer have eggs or chicks. By this I mean we all depend on the Tonle Sap lake, from where we fish, commute, cultivate, etc., so it is a prerequisite that we need to protect the lake.
Efforts to protect the lake are required not only from those living and benefiting directly from it but people throughout the country, as well as those nations living along the Mekong River like Vietnam and Laos, and others. It has been high time for these nations, between those on the upper stream and those on the lower stream, to think of consequences and find ways to develop in one country without inflicting negative consequences to others who receive of the same river lifeline. It was a great gesture that the Prime Minister of Laos has declared postponing the construction of the dam at Sayaborei in order to conduct further studies of consequences may eventually impact on Cambodia and Vietnam in the lower steam. As people who own the Tonle Sap lake, we should uphold our effort to protect and sustain it.
To achieve this goal, I have warned our authorities for not taking too extreme measures (while evicting illegal settlements and water reservoirs). By saying that actions taken must not be extremist when it comes to, I mean, villages that exist in the Zone III since like 1930s or even when we could know it. If we were to dismantle the reservoirs existed there since 1930s, it would be a silly mistake as we did not respect to what has been left from the past. We need to demolish newly and illegally built ones as they have frustrated the water flow and nature, which consequently causing shallow condition in the lake.
In Kompong Chhnang province, which also borders one side with Tonle Sap lake, I called HE Lim Kean Hor of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology to take extra care while implementing this policy for the villages in the districts of Prey Kri and Kompong Leng. In Peam Chakaok, where I visited in 1986, I saw people lived floating on water. It was because of this fact that I am concerned that by implementing this policy one may go extremely far by moving these people out.
According to rough study, the village had some 30 households in 1943, 55 households in 1957, 63 households in 1970 and 71 households in 1973. It has been a settlement that has gone one for many generations. As of now the figure of households has gone up to 200. So what remains to be done here is to develop it into an environmentally friendly village, together with villages of similar condition, so that we can protect our freshwater swamp forest.
Today I would like to tell people of Kompong Thom that we have solved problems relating to conserving and sustaining the lake and its environment in the provinces around Tonle Sap already – Battambang, Kompong Chhnang, etc. We have defined the zone and identified areas where people can go on with their routine life. Here in Kompong Thom we have four communes from three different districts that need to be defined and identified as not affected by the national policy. They are Peam Bang of Stuong district, Phat Sanday and Kompong Ko of Kompong Svay district, and Sralao of Baray district. The coverage of the land secluded from the policy is some 9,097 hectares plus extra 10%.
What does 10% mean? In addition to the defined coverage area of 9,097 hectares secluded from the national conservation policy for Tonle Sap Lake for the four communes, I have figured out that there needs to be a buffer zone between the land provided to the people’s community and that protected by the state. The 10% area belongs to no particular person but to the community. Take for instance, in Peam Bang commune, the community has been provided with land coverage of 1,485 hectares plus 140 hectares of extra land as its buffer area. I would call on people to help maintain and protect the buffer area and even to grow freshwater swamp forest, where they could benefit from in form of rattan and/or firewood.
Also I must state clearly that the ten percent buffer zones are not for sale to traders, which would bring about fussy issues. The land belongs to the community and its people are those who have to maintain and safeguard them while growing flooded forest. Finally, both the state and private people have come together to protect our natural resources and I order that the Tonle Sap and the provincial authorities must see to marking the ten percent buffer zones with boundary poles.
As for reservoirs, I would like to declare that all reservoirs in Zone III of the Tonle Sap Lake will be demolished except those in the four stated communes. No more reservoirs will be allowed in the area. There have been numerous reservoirs already in the four communes and similar condition has been allowed for other provinces too. As for those who start making new ones recently, I would conclude that they are not the people in the village. People would not have tractors, bulldozers, excavators, etc. People with all these must be someone with resources and power. Real benefit from these actions will not be for the people.
We must be aware of the consequences of these illegal actions that in the long run these lands will belong to merchants and not the people. As I said if it really benefits the people to give out another ten percent to the community would not be a hard thing to do. However, we are wishing to keep some 64,000 hectares area for the Tonle Sap lake basin. It has shrunk indeed from over one million hectares before.
Secondly, those reservoirs in Zone II will be allowed for restructuring and adjusting. Zone II is defined to be area where water is conserved. However, there needs to be a study to set out policy on the adjustment of the reservoir system. Of course reservoirs in Zone II are in higher level than those in the Zone III, however, there needs to have reconfiguration, readjustment in accordance with form and procedure set out by the Tonle Sap Authority.
Thirdly, it is absolutely inadmissible to build new reservoirs, except in Zone I. It is a fact that because people are in short of water for irrigation they intruded into the Tonle Sap area. It is better to try and build a water basin in Zone II and/or I so that people will stop making intrusion to Zone III. So it is primarily urgent that we will have to build water reservoirs in Zone I that is adjacent and closer to the national road in Kompong Thom, which would hamper water flow from Preah Vihear through the Sen River down to Tonle Sap so that people will benefit from this for their cultivation in higher level land areas.
It is also equally important to maintain the water quality of the Tonle Sap Lake. We should be aware of consequences from using chemical elements of all kinds. It is in national interest that institutions concerned have paid attention to possible chemical leakages or waste dumping in river and/or lake system. As for Zone II where cultivation is its main objective, excessive use of chemicals would result in polluting water, and Zone III that is in the lowest level area will be subjected to serious destruction.
As far as concrete measures to be taken in the Zone III area, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, with the participation of the Fisheries Department, will have to jointly act in a coordination efforts to remove fishing traps that are being set up across the whole river and lake. Actions should be taken using both laws altogether – the Water Resources Management Law and the Fisheries Law. From a bird’s eye view, over a lake perhaps in Khsach Kandal, I noticed a long fish trap set across the whole lake. That would hinder movement of fish but also navigations too.
Again about fishing, HE Chan Sarun, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in his report to me yesterday, in implementation of my initiative to reform the fishing lot and coverage in the Tonle Sap lake, I have noticed that in 2011, a size of 77,773 hectares or about 45.45% of the whole (provincial) fishing area has been cut off from the state control and provided for use in fishing by the people. In 2010, we released some 30,245 hectares of fishing areas along the river for the same purpose.
As for today I approve our people’s request to fish in some 300 hectares and I have allowed them to do so in like 400 hectares according to the demand from the party head. I ask HE Chan Sarun to get down to paper work to make this cut official.
It was said the other day (in the Thai media’s ASTV) that the Cambodian armed forces were lacking of food, while mockingly urged me to send in food supply to our armed forces. Let me first tell them that over 50,000 displaced people the other day came to camp with only some ten kg of rice, but when they went back home, they had a full load of supply in their pulled tractor’s carts. It is everyone knowledge that the Cambodian armed forces in the era of Techo (Hun) Sen drink and wash their faces with bottled water.
The Cambodian armed forces along the Cambodian-Thai border from Ta Moan, Ta Krobei to Jak Jreng, Ta Sim, Viel Intri, Preah Vihear temple, and Ta Thao, are provided with running water and when they fought, drinking water is at their disposal. The Cambodian soldiers, I wish to assure you, will not be starved unlike yours (Thai soldiers) who have gone disarrayed. Was not it true that from the yellow shirt forum someone claimed that one hundred soldiers have gone missing?./.