From: Associated Press
Published March 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Cambodian Leader Warns That Development Poses Threat to Great Lake

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodia's prime minister warned Monday that increasing population and over-exploitation of fisheries and wildlife pose a dire threat to his country's Tonle Sap, or "Great Lake," the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.

"The lake is facing a serious threat of over-exploitation and its ecosystem has become quite fragile," Prime Minister Hun Sen said at a national forum on the Tonle Sap held in Phnom Penh.

"Honestly, if this problem is not addressed decisively and soon enough, Cambodia could face a serious environmental disaster," he warned.

He said the clearing of nearby forest land for large-scale agriculture is resulting in the seepage of fertilizer and pesticides into the lake, creating serious environmental problems.

Tonle Sap is 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh and touches six provinces. Hun Sen said the lake's basin is home to about 4 million of Cambodia's 14 million people, and that about 40 percent of the country's population derive some benefit from its resources.

The lake harbors a rich biosphere of more than 200 species of fish, 42 types of reptiles, 225 species of birds and 46 kinds of mammals.

C. Lawrence Greenwood, vice president of the Asian Development Bank, said weak governance, severe poverty and social inequity, and conflicts over management of fisheries and natural resources pose serious threats to the lake's ecosystem and the livelihoods of people who depend on it.

"The great lake provides daily sustenance and livelihoods for over 1 million people, many of whom are among the poorest in Cambodia," Greenwood said at the seminar.

Tonle Sap covers approximately 250,000 hectares (618,000 acres) during the dry season and expands to about 1.25 million hectares (3 million acres) during the rainy season.

Source: Associated Press

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