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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

continued deforestation, Cambodian people, Khmer Rouge regime, defoliants, bombings

Deforestation is the most serious threat to Cambodia’s environment. In the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian forests and wetlands were harmed by bombings and defoliants used in the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and 1980s the damage continued with the disastrous agricultural policies of the Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. In the relatively peaceful 1990s, timber became an important export for Cambodia. More than 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of Cambodian forest were cut down from 1990 to 1995. In 1995 the government responded by banning log exports, but illegal timber exporting has led to continued deforestation. The annual rate of deforestation in 1990-2000 was 0.58 percent.

Many of the mangrove swamps crucial to the country’s fisheries and wildlife have been destroyed. The loss of wildlife habitat and the negative environmental effects of logging and mining industries have caused a decline in biodiversity. In 2001, 55 species were listed as threatened in Cambodia, including 23 species of mammals. In addition, the pollution and contamination of streams and lakes has made much of the country’s fresh water unsafe. Only 30 percent (2000) of all Cambodian people have access to safe, drinkable water, and only 17 percent (2000) have access to sanitation.

In addition to banning the export of lumber, the Cambodian government has declared a large portion— 16.2 percent (1997)—of the country’s total land area protected. The government has also ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, endangered species, marine life conservation, ship pollution, and tropical timber.

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