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Rural poor at risk from climate change, says report

A young boy holds a fish in rural Cambodia. Despite strong economic growth, much of the country remains dependent on a rural economy and natural resources
(Courtesy of UNDP/Arantxa Cedillo)

Building local resilience will prove key to better addressing the effects of climate change in Cambodia, this year's Cambodia Human Development Report (CHDR) states.

"Local action and local solutions are what is needed most," Tin Ponlok, deputy director-general of climate change for the Cambodian Ministry of Environment, told IRIN. "This is where we can make the most difference."

Released on 30 August, the report, Building Resilience: The Future for Rural Livelihoods in the Face of Climate Change, identifies climate change as a threat to human development gains and a source of increasing vulnerability for Cambodia's poor.

About 80 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people live in rural areas, where the vast majority depend on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), shorter and more intense rainy seasons, combined with longer and drier seasons, are expected to significantly alter the country's agricultural landscape. Predicted rises in temperature could have devastating effects on the rice crops on which many rural livelihoods rely.

Studies in the region suggest rice production, a staple part of the Cambodian diet, could decline significantly with a one degree Celsius rise in temperature, making rice farming unviable for many, the CHDR report says.

"Seasonal practices are now changing and the growing cycle for rice is changing more and more," said Richard Friend, co-author of the report, noting the potential impact this could have on Cambodia's overall rice output.

"Many farmers lose their seedlings when the rains are delayed," he said. "The rains appear to be coming later than usual in line with climate change projections for Cambodia and the region."

About 80 percent of Cambodia's rice output is rain-fed.

Speaking at the report's launch, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon said although climate change was already high on the government's agenda, it must now be thoroughly incorporated into strategic policies and action plans across all sectors at the national and sub-national levels to build future resilience.

"This needs to be done particularly in the sectors that are the backbone of the national economy such as agriculture, water resources, fisheries, forestry, energy and physical infrastructure," he said.

The report argues for a well coordinated effort to build climate resilience among the country's rural population in four key areas: water resources, agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

In 2010, delayed rains demonstrated the extreme dependence of rural people's well-being on the regularity of seasons, controlled by the climate, and the availability of natural resources such as water.

The late onset of last year's rainy season resulted in record-low water levels in the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers at a time when many poor farmers were still reeling from the loss of their crops to Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, the report explained.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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