Cambodia considers water “White Gold” in achieving sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development nationally and regionally, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in his address to the 4th Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Japan.

The two-day summit was held in Kumamoto prefecture from April 23-24 under the theme “Water for Sustainable Development – Best Practices and the Next Generation”.

In his keynote address, Hun Sen said: “For Cambodia, water is considered as ‘White Gold’ – a driving force for sustainable and inclusive socio-economic progress and development. The Cambodian government always recognises its strategic importance and places high priority on resources aimed at promoting better management of water resources in order to ensure water security in the country.”

The Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years had posed “unprecedented impacts” on global socio-economic development, he said. The crisis has also shown a need for conservation and protection of ecosystems and natural resources - particularly water - in order to promote and support “sustainable and resilient” livelihoods and socio-economic development.

“Certainly, water is an essential resource for development and quality living, but this resource is becoming scarcer and scarcer, day by day, in many parts of the world,” he said.

“This is due to human activities that are adversely affecting water sources and quality, [causing] climate change, floods and droughts, population growth and rapid development – all of which have been impacting water resources and the ecosystems that support it.”

Hun Sen said water resources have become a key agenda that “requires solidarity” to manage sustainably now and in the future. He recommended that countries continue to promote the development and integration of “infrastructure networks” to support water resource management at national, regional and global levels.

He urged them to place more emphasis on promoting the development of “responsible” socio-economic activities and supporting green development - especially in the agriculture sector, which requires the use of large amounts of water.

Hun Sen promoted the use of digital means for cooperation, and suggested the leveraging of “the progress of digital technology development for the use and management of water resources in efficient and effective manners,” he said.

He also recommended the continued support of programmes, initiatives and activities that promote social sustainability in the use and management of water resources, to ensure that people around the world have access to clean water.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the NGO People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said water management is “very important” for Cambodia – especially in the Mekong River, which links many countries in the region.

He expressed his concern about the reported increase in the number of hydro dams on the upper parts of the river, which have caused countries located downstream to face water shortages.

“It is reported that Laos had constructed many hydro dams which made the flow of the Mekong change a lot, causing water shortages as well as affecting biodiversity. A challenge that all governments in the Mekong sub-region have to consider is the common interests of [countries along] the river over individual benefit,” he said.

“We cannot permit a particular country to manipulate the joint water resource … it will affect and cause serious problems for other countries on the lower part of the water source, such as Cambodia on the Mekong River.”

The NGO head was also critical of Cambodia for allowing the filling of lakes for property development purposes, which he said was causing water shortages in the Kingdom. He said that such development must be balanced with water security and resources.

Kim Eng echoed Hun Sen’s remarks that water resources in Asia and the Pacific have to be cared for, adding that commitment by all regional countries to protect shared water resources is crucial to achieve mutual interests.

After the summit, Hun Sen reaffirmed Cambodia’s commitment to collaborating with regional and international stakeholders to strengthen and promote more effective governance and management of water resources as well as the Mekong River basin.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on April 24 issued a press statement about Hun Sen’s participation in the summit, saying that the prime minister expressed his belief that a combination of high-level political will, joint efforts and collective actions “will indeed ensure a successful achievement of this objective”.

It said the leaders of the participating countries agreed to issue the “Kumamoto Declaration”, which affirms that they have reached a collective understanding that recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic requires “transformation into quality-oriented societies that are resilient, sustainable and inclusive, and can be achieved by strengthening actions for water sustainability.”

“To this end, they are determined to strengthen the development of quality infrastructure for the water sector, integrating both hard and soft components, including data management,” the ministry said.

Hun Sen and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio presided over the signing ceremony of a memorandum of cooperation between Cambodia’s Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology and Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.