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THE TONLE SAP INITIATIVE he Tonle Sap is the most important inland wetland in Southeast Asia. It supports a huge population through its enormous fisheries productivity and water supply, and provides the last refuge for some of Asia’s most globally significant biodiversity. Human population and development pressures, however, are increasing. In response, the Government of Cambodia established the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve (TSBR) in February 2001 as a focal point of environmental management. Not surprisingly, establishment of the TSBR has shed light on the numerous threats to the Tonle Sap: each has multiple root causes, the severity of which affect the speed and manner in which they can be addressed. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recognizes that sustainable management and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity should be considered from the perspective of the basin feeding the Tonle Sap. In keeping with this outlook, the Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project (2002) aims to enhance systems and develop the capacity for natural resource management coordination and planning, community-based natural


resource management, and biodiversity conservation in the TSBR. Without such investments, the Tonle Sap region would become progressively less productive. The Project also initiates a framework wherein subsequent projects could address generic management and conservation concerns, institutionalize communitybased natural resource management, promote sustainable livelihoods, pioneer stewardship of core areas by

communities, upgrade basin-wide research and database development, and encourage extension services in place of regulation. Infrastructure for waste management, water supply and sanitation, multipurpose landing sites, ecotourism, and expanded rural credit and microfinance might also be appropriate. ADB’s country strategies and programs for Cambodia reflect ADB’s sector-wide approach to the Tonle Sap, which ADB expects to pursue over the next 10 years.

The Tonle Sap Area

· 250,000–300,000 ha in the dry season · 1.0–1.6 million ha in the wet season


· · · · · ·


· The flooded forest contains about 200 plant species · The flooded forest covered more than 1 million ha originally, 614,000 ha in the 1960s, and 362,000 ha in 1991 · The Tonle Sap contains at least 200 species of fish, 42 species of reptiles, 225 species of birds, and 46 species of mammals


· 1.2 million people live in the area bordered by Highways No. 5 and No. 6. · The Tonle Sap yields about 230,000 tons of fish per annum (more than 50% of Cambodia’s total) · Rice production in the Tonle Sap floodplain makes up about 12% of Cambodia’s total production.

1–2 m above mean sea level in the dry season 8–11 m above mean sea level in the wet season 20% of the Mekong River’s floodwaters are absorbed by the Tonle Sap 62% of the Tonle Sap’s water originates from the Mekong River 38% of the Tonle Sap’s water originates from the Tonle Sap watershed The Tonle Sap is connected to the Mekong River by the 100-kilometer long Tonle Sap River, which reverses its flow seasonally



Eric Sales


infrastructure development, and alternative livelihood development and improvement. Following discussions in November–December 2001, it was agreed that a first project should concentrate on institutional strengthening and legislative reform, and that provision should be made for subsequent projects (including investments in infrastructure) once management systems and capacity have been built.

The Tonle Sap yields about 230,000 tons of fish annually; the area is home to 1.2 million people

The Tonle Sap in ADB’s Country Strategies and Programs Protection and Management of Critical Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin (1998) roposals for improved environmental management of the Tonle Sap were studied under regional technical assistance (TA) for Protection and Management of Critical Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin, which covered two wetlands of regional

P 2


Eric Sales

• •

importance: the Tonle Sap in Cambodia and Siphandon in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In Cambodia, the objective of the TA was to prepare proposals for investment to develop and support communitybased integrated management systems for fisheries, forestry, and agriculture. As presented in July 2001, the TA consultants had formulated a proposal for an investment project that consisted of • community-based natural resource management,

Tonle Sap Environmental Management (2002) The objective of the Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project is to enhance systems and to develop the capacity for natural resource management coordination and planning, community-based natural resource management, and biodiversity conservation in the TSBR. To accomplish the project’s objective, three closely interrelated components will • strengthen natural resource management coordination and planning for the TSBR, • organize communities for natural resource management in the TSBR, and • build management capacity for biodiversity conservation in the TSBR. The project area encompasses the TSBR and parts of the five provinces that adjoin it: Battambang, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Thom, Pursat, and Siem Reap. This comprises the core areas, the buffer zone, and the transition area that extends to and is ultimately bounded by Highways No. 5 and No. 6. The total project cost is estimated at $19.3 million equivalent. ADB plans to provide a loan of $10.9 million equivalent from its Special Funds resources to finance about 56% of the project cost. A Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant in the amount of about $3.2 million was formulated with the proposed loan. In addition, the United Nations Development Programme’s Capacity 21 program plans to provide a grant of about $623,000. The Government would

Eric Sales

Chong Kneas Environmental Improvement (2004) Chong Kneas, a fishing community at the northern end of the Tonle Sap in Siem Reap Province, is the major landing point for passengers, fish, cargo, and fuel destined for Siem Reap. It consists of seven villages of a mixed ethnic composition, and has a total population of about 5,000 in some 700 households. Port facilities do not exist, in the traditional sense of the term, due in large part to the seasonal water level variation and corresponding movement of the shoreline by some 5–8 kilometers. As with other fishing communities living in the flooded area of the lake, the Chong Kneas community has adopted a way of life tightly integrated with the seasonal rise and fall of water in the Tonle Sap. The inhabitants of six of the seven villages live in houseboats that are moved according to the level of flooding. The remaining village sits on the side of a road embankment which extends south from Phnom Kraom, an isolated

rocky outcrop rising about 140 meters above the otherwise flat terrain of the seasonally flooded land bordering the Tonle Sap. Improving environmental conditions for the community at Chong Kneas and reducing its poverty are interrelated and strongly linked with improving the living conditions of the dependent community members. Their life on the water is

one of extreme hardship and vulnerability. The community has requested that upgrading of the port facilities be accompanied by the provision of a permanent living area for the commune of Chong Kneas. The objective of a project preparatory TA, scheduled in 2002, is to prepare an investment project to improve the social and natural environment at Chong Kneas. The TA will produce a

Learning new skills can help people build new lives Ian Fox

finance about $3.9 million equivalent in local currency.

Life on the water is one of hardship and vulnerability



feasibility study of investment interventions (see focus article, p.7). Tonle Sap Sustainable Livelihoods Sector (2005) Poverty is almost four times as prevalent in rural Cambodia as in the capital of Phnom Penh, where one in 10 people live in poverty. Life in the countryside is characterized by lack of access to electricity and health services. Most rural homes do not have a toilet and almost a third of rural inhabitants have completed less than one year of formal schooling. Cambodia experienced high economic growth before 1997, but agricultural productivity failed to keep pace with population growth, leaving many people to fish and forage on common property. As the situation worsens, there remains a lack of understanding of what could be done to help the rural poor. The objective of a project preparatory TA, scheduled in 2003, is to prepare an investment project to sustain and improve livelihoods in the flooded area of the Tonle Sap. The TA will cover parts of five provinces that adjoin the Tonle Sap (see focus article, p.8).

Elements of Strategic Planning


Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction ADB will augment its support for 4


The ancient Khmer kings built their capital on the northwestern shore of the Tonle Sap

Ian Fox

Enlisting Partners f assistance is to help Cambodia reduce poverty, there needs to be a real improvement in the way that assistance is delivered. This means reducing support for stand-alone projects and increasing support for sector-wide reforms. The Tonle Sap Initiative builds on successful and tested approaches pioneered by nongovernment organizations and long-standing partners, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Labour Organisation, United Nations Development Programme, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to promote complementarity and sharing of experience.

sustainable management and conservation by leveraging resources such as the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) to enable improvements in the livelihoods of the poorest, for example through better access to basic and facilitating infrastructure as well as improved access to information, technologies, and training. In 2002, ADB plans to formulate a JFPR project targeting poor fisherfolk to • reduce income poverty in the floating communities of the Tonle Sap that have more than 40–50%

of the households living in poverty and experiencing food insecurity; sustain livelihoods by providing access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and education infrastructure; and improve the capacity of the poor, particularly women and ethnic minorities, to participate effectively in decision making, implementation and management of livelihood improvement activities, and selection and implementation of activities for community-based infrastructure.

External Assistance to the Environment and Natural Resources Sector Project




$ million

Area of Operation

Management of the Freshwater Capture Fisheries of Cambodia


MRC, Denmark

To study socioeconomics and community organization for improved management


Assessment of Mekong Fisheries



To collect data on ecology and socioeconomics for use in planning water management projects and in designing fisheries management systems

Mekong region

Aquaculture of Indigenous Mekong Fish Species



To develop aquaculture systems to explore the feasibility of breeding indigenous fish species

Mekong region

Strengthening Inland Fisheries Management Systems



To establish databases for national Mekong Basin capture and culture fisheries; and regional capture and culture fisheries, and strengthening national capacity for data collection, storage, processing, analysis, interpretation and dissemination

Tonle Sap

Cambodia Climate Change Assistance



To build knowledge and capacity related to climate change by focusing on issues clearly perceived by the Government as environmental and developmental priorities



Participatory Natural Resource Management in the Tonle Sap Region

1995–1998 1998–2001 2001–2003

FAO, Belgium

To conduct research and data collection on the flora and fauna of the flooded forest ecosystem and the socioeconomy of fisheries and border zone agricultural communities; and develop natural resource management by local communities

Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management



To develop an effective national protected areas system that is based on a consistent and well articulated set of management, financial, and institutional procedures within a well functioning legal and regulatory framework


Natural Resource and Environment Program



To sustain environmental resource management based on environment-friendly, technologically, and socioeconomically sound use of natural resources by the communities, the private sector, and government; mitigate against the detrimental effects of urban and industrial development; and support environmental education, particularly among the younger generation


Siem Reap

Ratanakiri and Stung Treng


(continued on p.6)


Eric Sales

Special Features Sector Analysis Basin Approach Donor Coordination Partnerships Cofinancing Sequencing Pro-Poor Interventions Sustainable Livelihoods Social Participation Ethnic Minorities ADB MEKONG DEPARTMENT


External Assistance to the Environment and Natural Resources Sector (Cont’d.) Project




$ million

Area of Operation

Mekong River Basin Ongoing Wetland Conservation to 2008 and Sustainable Use Programme

UNDP, GEF, Netherlands

To establish a multisectoral planning process operational at national and regional levels; strengthen the policy framework and macroeconomic environment to support wetland biodiversity conservation and sustainable use; and strengthen the information base to improve management of wetlands, including community-based natural resource management


Mekong region

Agricultural Productivity Improvement



To strengthen agronomy, animal health, fisheries and agricultural hydraulics, all of which have capacity building responsibilities


North and northeast, including Kompong Thom and Siem Reap

Community-Based Rural Development



To sustain increased food production and farm incomes from intensified and diversified crop and livestock production; and increase the capacity of the poor to use services available from the Government and other sources for their social and economic development


Kompong Thom and Kampot

North East Village Development



To promote rural development through direct productive activities, training in agriculture, fisheries and vegetable cultivation, microenterprise development, small-scale rural infrastructure, and harbor improvement


Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, and Stung Treng

ADB=Asian Development Bank; AFD=Agence Française de Développement; Danida=Danish International Development Authority; EU=European Union; FAO=Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; GEF=Global Environment Facility; IFAD=International Fund for Agricultural Development; MRC=Mekong River Commission; UNDP=United Nations Development Programme; WB=World Bank.

The Value of Wetlands: The Tonle Sap as Lake and Floodplain Lakes

Estuaries (without Mangroves mangroves)

Open Coasts

Functions Groundwater Recharge Groundwater Discharge Flood Control Shoreline Stabilization Erosion Control Sediment/Toxicant Retention Nutrient Retention Biomass Export Storm Protection/Windbreak Microclimate Stabilization Water Transport Recreation/Tourism Products Forest Resources Wildlife Resources Fisheries Forage Resources Agricultural Resources Water Supply Attributes Biological Diversity Uniqueness to Culture or Heritage Key: Absent or exceptional; Present; Common and important value of that wetland type. Source: Dugan, P.J. (Ed.) (1990). Wetland Conservation: A Review of Current Issues and Required Action. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.




Freshwater Marshes


Swamp Forests

Hannu Pelkonen (x2)


Chong Kneas: dry season (above), wet season (below)

THE CHALLENGES AT CHONG KNEAS handling, and susceptible to oil and fuel spills. The air is fetid with rotting organic debris. Nonbiodegradable solid wastes litter the shoreline and shallow waters. Liquid and solid wastes of all nature are disposed of in the water alongside the road and become trapped within the channel. Although the visual evidence of pollution diminishes when the water level is high, the environmental and health hazards remain. This situation poses an increasingly severe health risk for the villages of Chong Kneas, limits opportunities for value-added fish-based activities, and is not conducive to tourism development. While fishing is the main occupation, small businesses and employment as porters, boat drivers, and fish handlers provide some supplementary income. The inhabitants of the floating villages pay to have their houseboats towed to new anchorage sites along the channel to accommodate the changing water levels and move into sheltered locations. These and other costs related to repairing damage to their houses account for a large part of the annual expenditure of the predominantly poor residents. Indebtedness is high and returns for labor are low as most poor fisherfolk are locked into a system of borrowing and selling to middlemen. The

absence of clean water and sanitation leads to frequent morbidity and low levels of life expectancy. One floating school is in poor condition and provides extremely limited facilities. Seasonal peaks in labor demand result in low school attendance, especially for boys. The most vulnerable section of the community, however, consists of the female-headed households, for which lack of access to male labor and capital severely limits livelihood options. Another particularly vulnerable group is the ethnic Vietnamese minority. 

Eric Sales


ort facilities do not exist in the traditional sense of the term at Chong Kneas due in large part to the seasonal water level variation and corresponding movement of the shoreline by some 5–8 km. The present facilities for unloading passengers, fish, and cargo comprise an earthen road embankment extending south from Phnom Kraom for about 3.8 km and a navigation channel of about 6 km that runs alongside the road and connects to the small inlet on the lake’s perimeter. When the lake is at its highest level, Phnom Kraom is accessible by passenger, fishing, and cargo boats, even though the road is mostly submerged. In the dry season, the channel is unnavigable for almost its complete length. At such times, a wooden landing site is constructed at the point where the road ends. This and other similar installations along the road are removed as the water rises. The channel is often heavily congested with regular traffic sharing the narrow passage with floating houses, fish cages being towed from one location to another, and tourist boats in an apparently chaotic situation. Passengers and cargo reach the boats by planks on temporary supports. The site is hazardous for passengers, unhygienic for fish




Eric Sales

Education is a priority in Cambodia, where a third of rural people have completed less than a year of formal schooling



ambodia is ranked 130th on the Human Development Index (2002), out of 173 countries: around 40% of the population live below the poverty line; 40% of people do not have enough to eat; half of the children under five are malnourished; for every 1,000 live births, 115 children die before they reach that age; and the rate of HIV/ AIDS infection is the highest in the



region. Regardless, at its current growth rate (2.5% in 2001), Cambodia’s population will rise from 11.5 million to 14 million by 2005. The incidence of poverty in rural areas (43%) is four times higher than that reported in Phnom Penh (11%): access to health services covers barely half the rural population; 82% of rural households have no toilet; 31% of rural

inhabitants have completed less than a year of formal schooling; 96% cook with firewood; and less than 1% have electricity for lighting. Despite high economic growth before 1997, agricultural productivity did not keep up with population growth. Fishing and foraging on common property such as lakes and forests make up the difference of food supply. However, access to all natural resources is

widespread corruption, environmental degradation from unsustainable patterns of exploitation, and escalating conflict. Despite the vast natural wealth of the Tonle Sap, poverty is widespread: 38% of the population living in the five provinces surrounding it fall under the official poverty line, the highest proportion in the country. Around 50% of villages have 40–60% of households living below the poverty line, with a peak of 80% in some rural areas of Siem Reap Province and Kompong Chhnang Province. Poverty is related to extended instability and conflict, and the resultant harm to the population. Most of Cambodia experienced peace and economic growth after 1993, but only since 1998 have areas northwest of the Tonle Sap enjoyed their first real respite from war. Many internally displaced persons, repatriated refugees, internal migrants, and demobilized soldiers are busy reestablishing their livelihoods in what remains a fractured society. The ability to tackle these issues has been diminished at all levels of Cambodian

society by 25 years of strife brought about by the Khmer Rouge. In recent years, many have become increasingly concerned that development and unsustainable exploitation of natural richness, especially clearing of the flooded forest for cash cropping and illegal fishing, threaten the Tonle Sap. King Norodom Sihanouk has warned that Cambodia faces environmental disaster if the fragile ecosystem of the lake is further degraded. The livelihoods approach is a way of thinking about the objectives, scope, and priorities for development. It seeks to develop an understanding of the factors that lie behind people’s choice of livelihood strategy and then to reinforce the positive aspects and mitigate against the constraints or negative influences. Its core principles are that poverty-focused development activities should be people-centered, responsive and participatory, multilevel, conducted in partnership, sustainable, and dynamic. It is a way of putting people at the center of development, thereby increasing the effectiveness of development assistance. The livelihoods approach has the core principles that povertyfocused development activities should be people-centered, responsive and participatory, sustainable, and dynamic

Eric Sales

becoming more difficult and many claim that the condition of the rural poor is in fact deteriorating. Disturbingly, there is still a real lack of understanding of what could be done to help the rural poor. The challenge is to examine and address the multiple aspects of their livelihoods. A livelihood is a combination of the resources used and the activities undertaken to live. It is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress, and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets without undermining the natural resource base. However, in Cambodia, the status of financial capital reveals that few options are available: the majority of loans are taken from relatives or neighbors. Physical capital, such as roads and water supplies, has been destroyed, and there is poor coverage of schools and health posts. Natural capital, including forests, fisheries, and a range of agroecological zones, is exposed to human pressure. Social capital suggests that social patterns and networks have been severely disrupted by protracted civil war and genocide: participation is seen as new. Human capital was seriously affected by the extermination of a generation of leaders, levels of health and education are low, and women shoulder a large burden of agricultural work due to male deaths in the wars. Structures and processes underpin this asset pentagon, comprising the institutions, policies, legislation, culture, and power relations that determine access, terms of exchange, and returns; shape the livelihood strategies of the poor; and govern their outcomes. Tackling poverty in Cambodia means working with the rural poor, initially where the availability of livelihood assets is being fundamentally affected by critical trends, such as overfishing and shocks—drought, pest outbreaks, or floods. This is the case in the Tonle Sap region. For the last 20 years, the Tonle Sap’s natural resources, especially its fisheries, have been characterized by inequity of distribution, fraudulent transactions,




ADB MEKONG DEPARTMENT Weak extension system

Subsistence farming

Lack of affordable capital

Inefficient water management

Undeveloped market systems

Lack of access to markets

Susceptibility to disasters, e.g., floods, droughts, pests

38% of people living in the five provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap fall under the official poverty line

Insecure land tenure and resource use rights

Weak social networks

Low agricultural productivity

Overfishing and loss of habitat

Inefficient rural energy services

Forest and land clearance

Diminishing natural resources

Poor communications systems coverage

Weak institutional and legal framework and corruption

Lack of basic infrastructure

Undeveloped transport services

High vulnerability to external shocks

Unpredictable economic and climatic environments

Scarce employment opportunities

Shortage of skilled labor

Lack of vocational training system

Weak health care system

Few schools and weak curricula

Source: Asian Development Bank

High level of adult illiteracy

High morbidity due to diseases and physical handicaps

Lack of basic infrastructure

Military demobilization and immigration

Rapid population growth

Lack of family planning services

High-risk investment climate due to weak legal and judicial systems and corruption

Poorly developed human resources

Poverty in the Tonle Sap

Poverty in the Tonle Sap



Source: Asian Development Bank

Provide adult literacy programs

Support business development

Title land and recognize user rights

Strengthen community and social networks

Develop extension with training and resources

Improve seed, new crops, new systems

Improve communications systems

Increase agricultural production

Develop small-scale finance systems

Expand irrigation systems

Construct rural markets, rural roads

Improve water and integrated pest management

Develop markets and information systems

Fisheries: establish comanagement and protect habitats

Develop and improve energy systems

Forests: establish comanagement and improve enforcement

Promote natural resource rehabilitation and comanagement programs

Revise laws and strengthen legal system; reduce corruption

Develop basic infrastructure

Improve road, rail, and port systems and facilities

Reduce vulnerability to external shocks

Provide social support services, flood forecasting

Provide adult training programs

Develop vocational training and apprenticeship programs

Improve health care and rehabilitation programs

Build schools and improve curricula

Vaccinations, medicines, awareness programs

Upgrade transport and communications infrastructure

Develop employment opportunities outside the Tonle Sap

Slow population growth

Develop family planning services system

Revise laws, strengthen legal system, and reduce corruption

Improve education and health care

Reduce Poverty

Poverty in the Tonle Sap: Some Solutions

Eric Sales

For more information on the Tonle Sap Initiative, please contact Urooj Malik, Country Director Paulin Van Im, Project Implementation/Program Officer Cambodia Resident Mission 93/95 Preah Norodom Blvd. Sangkat Boeung Raing Khan Daun Penh, Cambodia P.O. Box 2436 Tel: (855-23) 215 805, 215 806 Fax: (855-23) 215 807 E-mail: Web site: © Asian Development Bank 2002 October 2002

In this publication, “$” refers to US dollars.



Future Solutions Now - The Tonle Sap Initiative October 2002  

This six-monthly series showcased ADB's assistance to Cambodia under the Tonle Sap Initiative, a partnership of organizations and people lau...

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