Improving the health of Southeast Asia’s largest lake

“Without flooded forests, our community will be hit by floods, droughts, and other disasters. We know that when there is no more flooded forest, there will be no more fish in the water too,” said Yorm Sreynich, a villager from Sosor Sdam commune.

The Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and is known for being a key habitat for freshwater fish and numerous endangered species. Nearly half of all fish eaten by Cambodians are from this lake, making it critical to food security and nutrition.

During the rainy season, the Tonle Sap provides water to more than 85 percent of Cambodian farmers, ensuring fertile land for rice production and other tropical crops. Its floodplain, in particular the seasonally flooded forest scrub and grassland, is a vital habitat for fish and wildlife, making it one of the most productive freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Despite the richness of natural resources, the Tonle Sap is threatened by a number of challenges, particularly from climate change and mismanagement. In the last decade, land-use changes in and around the Tonle Sap Lake have noticeably brought many vexing problems. Now more than ever, urgent action is needed to protect the remaining resources. In response to the evolving challenges in the Tonle Sap, since July 2019, UNDP has supported the Royal Government of Cambodia to protect and restore the flooded forest within the lake area to improve fishing productivity, reduce carbon emissions and prevent erosion. More sustainable management practices, including forest rehabilitation, capacity building for local authorities, awareness-raising, and community engagement. Funded by The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and implemented by the Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, these steps have led to the successful replanting of 40,000 native species in three flooded forest areas north of the lake.

“I have never seen any activity like this happen in my community before. I am so glad as now I have seen so many people, including monks, students, and villagers participate in forest planting and conservation,” said Mr. Ki Lay Commune Chief of Sorsor Sdam, Siem Reap Province.

According to H.E. Chea Sam Ang, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Environment and Head of the National REDD + programme, this project was designed to rehabilitate and to mitigate the loss of the flooded forest. He added that through this project, the local communities learned a great deal about the benefits of the flooded forest, which motivates them to actively participate in forest replanting and conservation.

To ensure that reforestation activities do not have any negative social or environmental impacts in the proposed reforestation sites, the local community has been trained under the project to conduct a rapid potential risk assessment of re-forestation on biodiversity, gender, tenure, and indigenous people and to utilize management measures that mitigate potential impacts.

As part of this assessment, communities have successfully identified seven native tree species to replant, which will contribute to the restoration of biodiversity and improvement of the habitats of fish and other endangered species.

Communities have also received training to conduct effective monitoring and management of tree plantations, as well as the surrounding flooded forest conservation areas. To ensure that women’s unique needs are understood and that they benefit from the project, the assessment helps to further build community awareness, highlighting the importance of women taking a leading role in flooded forest protection. This approach ensures the active participation of men and women in reforestation and other conservation activities.

“Without flood forests, our community will be affected by floods, droughts, and other disasters. We know that when there is no more flooded forest, there will be no more fish in the water too. We are glad that we can participate in conservation-related work so our people in the community can still rely on the natural resources, and so can our next generations,” said Yorm Sreynich, a villager from Sosor Sdam commune.

Written by: Ratha Soy, UNV Communications Officer

Photos by: UNDP Cambodia/Ratha Soy, except where noted



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