Authorities in Northwestern Cambodia Urge Villagers Not to Burn Dried Forest Areas

Cambodian authorities in Battambang province have started canvassing villages to convince residents to stop illegally burning forest areas that have dried up because of the heat wave, leading to the deaths of more wild animals.

Authorities in the northwestern province are trying to raise villagers’ awareness about the illegal clearing of previously flooded forest areas around Tonle Sap, a freshwater lake and 120-kilometer (75-mile) long river system that connects to the Mekong River.

Long Poeun, governor of Ek Phnom district, said only local people are able to preserve the flooded forest areas that have dried up.

The district has reported that nearly 5,300 hectares (20 square miles) of previously flooded forest in three communes have been burned.

More than 100 wild monkeys there have died from the forest fires, authorities said, in addition to about 30 other monkeys that perished late last week along with birds and reptiles when the flooded forest dried up.

Hor Sam Ath, deputy of the Rohal Sous fishing community, applauded the canvassing activities but said authorities should send forces to prevent illegal clearing and burning around Tonle Sap on a regular basis.

Weather conditions in Cambodia this time of year tend to be extremely hot with no rain, causing lakes to dry up, until the rainy season begins in late May. The ongoing heat wave pushed temperatures as high as 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) last week in central Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province.

Cambodia is among several Southeast Asian nations suffering from a heat wave and droughts that meteorologists blame on the El Nino effect, a warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that elevates global temperatures.

Oddar Meanchey water shortages

Villagers in Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia’s remote northwest have urged government officials to dig water storage facilities as a relief measure for thousands of villagers affected by severe drought.

Sok Lang, a resident of Pol village in Samroang district, said she and her neighbors have had to rely on bottled water for a month because Lake Kandek, on which they depend for their water supply, has dried up.

“I urge Prime Minister Hun Sen to restore Lake Kandek because we don’t have any water,” she said, adding that she must now spend more than 10,000 riel (U.S. $2.50) a month to buy water.

Khin Nhien, chief of the water resources department in Oddar Meanchey province, said water resources have also dried up in Banteay Ampil, Trapang Prasat and Onlong Veng districts.

On April 26, Hun Sen ordered all authorities nationwide to mobilize to help supply water to people as the country dealt with the worst drought in at least 40 years, which has left about two-thirds of Cambodia’s 24 provinces and special administrative area of Phnom Penh short of drinking water, the Associated Press reported.

Natural disaster for birds

Authorities in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province said that animals inhabiting the conservation areas are at risk because of the drought, and wildlife groups are brainstorming on long-term strategies to bring water into affected areas should the drought continue throughout the year.

Environmental conservation groups in the province have reported finding hundreds of water buffaloes that have perished from the drought, saying it is a sign of a natural disaster to come for endangered birds.

Bou Vireaksak, program officer for international conservation organization BirdLife International said local water buffaloes are very important to maintain the sustainability of endangered birds because they kick up insects when they walk through the mud, creating a food source for birds.

The number of water buffalo owned by locals in the province’s Siempang district has decreased this year, he said.

Bou Vireaksak created three man-made ponds in a conservation area for wild and domestic animals as a test project during the drought season to provide some relief for the wildlife.

But he expressed concern that hunters could use the areas as opportunities to kill the animals when they gather near the ponds.

Provincial authorities last week were investigating the deaths of at least 200 cows and water buffaloes in the area from the drought, and were helping villagers who faced water shortages by digging new wells and transporting water.

Meanwhile, the number of dead fish found in Kampong Thom province’s protected Lake Chhmar has reached nearly 70 during the weekend since April 23 because of a lack of oxygen, low water levels and rising water temperatures, the Khmer Times reported.

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