Deforestation in Cambodia

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

Update: 17 September: The Cambodia Daily published an article about this issue yesterday. The photo below from the article graphically illustrates how bad it is.

Photo from Cambodia Daily. Click link above to read the story.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I avoid criticising Cambodia. My intention from the beginning was to present the positive side of this country because it seemed like everyone from bloggers to the MSM liked to pick on Cambodia. While some criticisms are valid, others are almost hallucinatory. In between are criticisms that could equally be applied to other countries, including those like America, which suffers under the illusion of superiority or “exceptionalism.” Unfortunately, one area where Cambodia stands out is deforestation. Deforestation in Cambodia has been occurring at such a rapid pace, the country has the highest rate per capita in the world.

Deforestation in Cambodia

I first became aware of the extent of the problem in 2006, when I travelled north to Laos. There wasn’t much of interest on the Cambodian side of the border as I passed plantations and pastures. It didn’t occur to me that vast areas of forest used to be there until I reached the border and suddenly the landscape changed dramatically.

Cambodia Laos border

Cambodia/Laos Border

Some might say the Cambodian side of the border, with its wide paved road and productive land represented “progress,” while the Laos side showed what a poor, backward country Laos was. Laos was a Communist country and Cambodia was embracing capitalism. Isn’t that a good thing? Well, to a degree capitalism is okay because it theoretically gives people greater opportunities. On the other hand, capitalism gives the wealthy opportunities, but they take advantage of opportunity by stealing from the poor.

Not everyone wants to be rich. Indigenous tribes everywhere, including in Cambodia, want to live their traditional lifestyle. I’ve met several Cambodians who have managed to do well, but still remember the days when they lived a simple village life as the best years of their life. As I write this, Sophie is staying with her grandmother in the rice fields of Svay Rieng. She’s recovering from a serious illness and enjoys being able to walk  outdoors without being bombarded by traffic noise. She often tells me that the best years of her life were the years she and her family were too poor to even live in a village.

Sophie took me to the place where she and her family lived one day. It was on the edge of an oil palm plantation. The hill behind their home, which was long gone, was completely barren. It saddened her to see what had become of her home. When she lived there, only 15 years before, the hill was forested and the oil palms didn’t extend so far into the jungle. We saw a few birds, but otherwise, the area was devoid of wildlife. She remembers her family being able to live off the land. They had no money, but would exchange goods they foraged or made (like charcoal) for rice and clothes.

I don’t have any answers. I’m as dependent on dollars as the next person. I’m just sad to see that greed is devouring our planet. What’s going to be left when it devours everything?