There is growing concern amongst Cambodian youth about the largest lowland evergreen forest in the country, and the negative impact deforestation is having on the area.
A recent forum, which was held at Zaman University in Phnom Penh, brought together more than 300 young students to debate the issue of protecting the forest from further deforestation and to shine a spotlight on the importance of forest preservation across the globe.
The event allowed attendees to gain further information about the forest and the worrying issues, such as degradation from illegal logging, it is facing. The 3,600 square kilometre stretch of Prey Lang is known as one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forests and the tract covers four provinces: Preah Vihear, Kratie, Kampong Thom and Steung Treng.
Thun Sophorn, the organiser of the Prey Lang Forum, said he believed the forum will lead to further efforts being made to raise support to protect Cambodia’s forested land.
Ms Sophorn told The Khmer Times: “We want the debaters to discuss the decentralisation of Prey Lang, meaning giving rights and responsibilities to the Prey Lang community. We want our audiences to learn more about Prey Lang since many youths still lack general knowledge on Prey Lang. We want youths to listen to comments and concerns of those who know about this issue and preserving the Prey Lang forest.”
According to an independent analyst, the event has had a great deal of impact as it has drawn the attention of the country’s political parties to the issue of forest protection.
One of the students leading the debate at the event, Rim Phatbophaphoung from Khemrak University, told the newspaper that raising awareness of the need for forest protection was key: “The topic debated today is very important for the public to understand the environmental issues, and protecting the environment — especially Prey Lang. The environment is an important source of shelter for animals and humans, as well as a source of living for the community.”
The executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Tek Vannara, confirmed the ecological importance of Prey Lang, saying that it was crucial as a habitat around Tonle Sap lake, as well as greatly impacting local temple tourism. It is also known by many as being a hub of biodiversity around the Tonle Sap area.
While the Cambodian Government was praised by Vannara for its efforts towards stamping out illegal logging, it needs to ensure it has a clear plan of action to ensure the forest is protected in the future. Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed the creation of a joint anti-logging task force comprised of district police, military police and forestry officials. Thus far, a series of raids have been carried out, many on economic land concessions, and have resulted in a number of arrests of those carrying out illegal logging activities.
Hoeun Sopheap, a community representative from Kampong Thom province and part of the Prey Lang Community Network, told the Phnom Penh Post: “The timber loggers in Prey Lang forest do not only log the timber, but they also destroy everything,” meaning that the loggers are not only destroying the trees themselves, but also the wildlife and the environmental health of the entire area.