Cambodia Seeks UNESCO World Heritage Status to Protect a Mekong Biodiversity Hotspot  – The Diplomat read full article at worldnews365.me

A daring Cambodian plan to safe World Heritage standing alongside their stretch of the Mekong, the place the free-flowing river has sustained a few of the world’s best biodiversity, might present much-needed respite to a river in peril of dying from dams and over-exploitation, consultants say.

In Phnom Penh, the Surroundings Ministry’s Below-Secretary of State Neth Pheaktra shared their plan to safe UNESCO world heritage recognition for all of the wealthy biodiversity to be discovered alongside the lengthy stretch of the Mekong from the Lao border to the province of Kratie over 200 km downstream. 

Marc Goichot, a contemporarywater sources and Mekong specialist for the World Vast Fund for Nature (WWF), welcomed the collection of this website. “The big variety of habitats alongside this a part of the Mekong in Cambodia creates good situations for wildlife to thrive, making this space a miraculous space for freshwater biodiversity,” he stated. WWF is helping within the preparation of the federal government’s software to UNESCO.

Goichot sees the UNESCO proposal as an thrilling step ahead for the conservation of the planet’s rivers. “The deliberate Mekong World Heritage website would play a key position in defending the planet’s biodiversity” as a result of the chosen website consists of “95 deep swimming pools that present refuge for migrating fish and a spawning habitat for globally essential critically endangered species together with, Irrawaddy dolphins, large stingrays and large catfish.” 

“Securing UNESCO recognition may even assist shield 40 endangered species on ICUN’s red-list, in considered one of world’s greatest areas of biodiversity opening a brand new chapter in wild-life conservation in Cambodia,” Neth Pheaktra enthused. 

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Cambodia is already residence to a few heritage websites, together with the legendary Angkor Wat and one pure heritage website, the profitable U.N.-backed biosphere reserve and the chook sanctuary website on Tonle Sap, the largest inland lake within the area. 

UNESCO consultants in Phnom Penh anticipate that an software so as to add a biodiversity conservation zone along the Mekong as a natural heritage site can be fast-tracked, on condition that it might result in an immense contribution to implementing agreements reached at COP15 of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference. 

Kampi village, simply outdoors the city of Kratie, lies alongside a stretch of the Mekong best-known for its dolphin-watching and ecotourism exercise. The realm additionally ranks as one of many world’s richest biodiversity spots and is a sanctuary for a lot of endangered species. WWF has listed over 411 fish species resident right here (out of 11,00 for the entire Mekong River), together with 281 chook species and 46 reptile species. 

Other than the 92 surviving Irrawaddy dolphins, wildlife consultants had been excited by the rarely-seen large stingray landed by fishermen in 2022, a large that principally hangs out within the deepest swimming pools of the river.

Zeb Hogan, head of the Wonders of the Mekong challenge, stated the stingray captured in 2022 was a reminder of the ecological significance of the stretch of the Mekong round Stung Treng, which is “rising because the final refuge of many species of iconic aquatic megafauna,” together with the Irrawaddy dolphin, softshell turtle, and large barb. Picture Credit score: Wonders of the Mekong crew, Cambodia

Good Information and Dangerous Information

The excellent news – that so many endangered species might lastly get the safety they deserve – has sadly been marred by some unhealthy information. This probably spectacular success story for world conservation could possibly be derailed if an enormous dam challenge lurking on the horizon, and being promoted by Cambodian tycoon Okna Kith Meng, ever will get the inexperienced gentle to go forward. 

Whereas the Ministry of Surroundings had been mapping out its plans to raised shield one of many few undammed areas left on the Mekong, Okna Kith Meng – the chairman of the Royal Group, which constructed its fortunes from actual property, telecommunications, and partnering with worldwide traders – has quietly secured permission from the Ministry of Mines and Power, to hold out a feasibility research to revive the controversial Stung Treng dam. 

A plethora of scientific research, relationship again to the primary try to construct the Stung Treng dam in 2007, have to this point dissuaded the federal government from going forward with the challenge. The losses to fisheries, wildlife, and the agricultural livelihoods of tons of of 1000’s would far outweigh any advantages in electrical energy, in line with the latest WWF report, published in 2018.

One other Cambodian challenge, the Sambor dam mendacity downstream from Stung Treng, was condemned as a recipe for “killing the Mekong” by the U.S.-based Pure Heritage Institute marketing consultant report, which was leaked to the Guardian.

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Many Cambodians battle to grasp why any firm would need to resurrect a dam that has already been twice rejected, and which most Mekong watchers had assumed was useless and buried, after the announcement of the 2020 moratorium on dams.

Two Conflicting Narratives: The place Does the Authorities Stand? 

Simply over a yr in the past, 10 Cambodian NGOs congratulated the government on its pledge at COP26, the U.N. Local weather Change convention held in Scotland. “We enormously admire the Royal Authorities of Cambodia’s efforts to search out various vitality sources coupled with their dedication to hydropower, and never assemble any new coal-fired energy vegetation,” they stated.

Say Samal, the setting minister, delivered Cambodia’s progressive vitality commitments to the COP26 summit in November 2021. But solely six weeks later, this coverage had been known as into query when the Ministry of Mines and Power quietly authorised the Cambodian tycoon’s request to proceed with a feasibility research on resurrecting the Stung Treng dam. The research, approved in December 2021, was accomplished in June 2022 with none session with Stung Treng communities. 

Figuring out the place the Power Ministry and different ministries actually stand on this risk to the Surroundings Ministry’s conservation dream for world recognition is not any straightforward job. 

In my interview with Neth Pheaktra, he vehemently insisted, “We is not going to construct any new dams. It is usually in our COP27 [the 2022 U.N. Climate Change conference] presentation, and varieties the premise of our UNESCO software.” 

Heng Leang, the director-general on the Ministry of Mines and Power, additionally responded, “No dams could be allowed on the Mekong.” And his senior colleague Tun Lean, an under-secretary, likewise confirmed “Cambodian authorities coverage doesn’t allow dams on the mainstream.” 

The director of the U.S.-based Stimson Basis’s Mekong program, Brian Eyler, who was just lately in Phnom Penh, had acquired related solutions. “Cambodian ministers from a number of companies proceed to offer assurances that they’re standing agency on commitments on (no dams) on Stung Treng,” he stated. Eyler really useful, “We should always maintain these statements at face worth.”

It appears moderately unusual, nonetheless, that nobody in authorities has but dared to speak the official “no dams” coverage to Okna Kith Meng, chairman of the Royal Group, who can be the present president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. 

Despite his possession of CNC, a number one Cambodia TV station, and his in depth telecommunications belongings, Okna Kith Meng invariably refuses to be interviewed by the media. Emails to his Royal Group went unanswered. 

Okna Kith Meng had beforehand promoted the development of the Decrease Sesan 2, funded and constructed by Chinese language associate state-owned Huaneng Company and their subsidiaries. Civil society argues that the dam turned out to be a disaster for fisheries and for the Mekong, whereas additionally uprooting native communities.

The specter of a revived Stung Treng dam by the identical firm that constructed the much-reviled Decrease Sesan 2 dam on one of many Mekong’s most essential tributaries, is a scary prospect. It’s spreading concern and alarm amongst fishing communities according to Mongabay, an environmental journal. 

If the Royal Group will get its manner with the 1,400 MW Stung Treng dam, backed by the identical Chinese language traders and with development coming from the state-owned Huaneng Company, it might additional consolidate China’s grip over the Mekong. It will additionally successfully humiliate the Cambodian authorities by shredding its credibility over its failure to implement the moratorium on Mekong hydropower. 

It’s reported that solely 90 dolphins are left alongside the Mekong. They’re now solely to be discovered between Stung Treng and Kratie alongside the river. Picture credit score: Credit score WWF/Artistic Commons.

Stung Treng Provincial Administration deputy director Males Kung supplied some clarification to the Phnom Penh Post: “Solely a research on feasibility has gone forward, however this was not a research for [dam] development, which might solely go forward, if the federal government explicitly provides the inexperienced gentle for it.” 

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That has undoubtedly not occurred. Veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has just lately been making overtures to the USA and the European Union, and striving for much less dependence on Beijing, has not made any public assertion as to which of those two narratives concerning the Mekong he favors, and which possibility would greatest bolster his long-term legacy. 

UNESCO’s stamp of approval has introduced monumental advantages worldwide, however particularly to poorly-resourced creating international locations. It has enhanced the safety, funding, and restoration of many websites, resulting in to better public consciousness, and elevated vacationer arrivals. Governments additionally see World Heritage Websites as boosting nationwide status and enhancing their standing as a must-see nation to go to.

If Hun Sen could be persuaded that this pioneering U.N. World Heritage Web site would improve his authorities’s worldwide standing, enhance its status as a world tourism vacation spot, and garner Western assist all on the similar time, then it could possibly be a win-win state of affairs for an authoritarian chief, as he contemplates his legacy and retirement in 2023. 

Eyler additionally sees many advantages from UNESCO approval. “It is going to assist Cambodia to keep up its dedication to not construct dams on or round this stretch of the river.” 

However as a veteran analyst of the area, and understanding the twists and turns of Cambodian politics, he correctly cautions, “Advocating for conservation is a continuing endless battle in Cambodia and extra sources are wanted in order that activists can sustain their efforts.”

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