Sustainable development: key environmental issues in Cambodia

This developing country is facing global environmental effects of climate change, like any other country. While attempting to achieve economic growth to reduce hunger and poverty, this kingdom has been depleting its richness: its land and its people. The issue here is not only about depletion of natural resources, but it is more about poverty. Cambodian might show their indifference about the fact that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm, but the majority of them would concern more about the poor crop yields triggered by scorching drought and sudden deluge of flooding. The article by Emily Wight on the Phnom Penh Post clearly state epitomized a farmer’s thinking about climate change, which mainly knows forest destruction as the cause of extreme flooding and drought. Climate change tremendously hits this poor, agricultural country, which is clearly seen by the food security crisis.

Primary environmental problems are mainly consisted of deforestation due to illegal logging, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, and water resource management.

  • Deforestation: According to USAID, Cambodia has confronted a significant rate of deforestation and biodiversity loss when only one fourth of the land is protected by the government. Standing among the countries with the highest deforestation rate (1.2%, World Bank (2012)). 59% of total land area is covered by forests, decreasing from 73% prior to 1970. Cambodian are suffering from other closely related environmental problems including land degradation, freshwater depletion, and extinction of endangered species.
  • Loss of biodiversity: this kingdom provided home to a variety of flora and fauna, especially endangered species and large mammals like Asian elephants, Javan rhino, and Sambar deer. Due to illegal wildlife trade, land conversion, and urbanization, many species’ extinctions are accelerating.
  • Land use: two main problems: farmers have no land to use and their lands are poor; land concessions are given to large foreign corporations.
  • Hydropower dam constructions at upstream countries: Damming is a recent environmental issue of this country as it relies on the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap Lake for water resources, hydropower energy, and fishery. The tradeoff between producing clean energy and keeping food security has drawn public attention to sustain the livelihood of communities.
  • Floods and droughts are considered as the main natural disaster, which is becoming more and more unpredictable.
  • Waste disposal and management: solid and hazardous waste is disposed and burned improperly, which causes tremendous health and environmental effects on local communities, especially rural ones near the landfills.

Key drivers of the degradation of forests and biodiversity:

  • population growth + increasing population density + income inequality
  • unsustainable use of natural resources due to export-led demands
  • lack of education and commitment on environmental protection at national and local levels.
  • poor infrastructure
  • weak governance


Molly Bergen. (2013). In Cambodia, Environmental Challenges Mirror the Past. Retrieved from

Ministry of Environment. (2009) National Sustainable Development Strategy for Cambodia. 

National Report for Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. (2012)


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