Minister of Environment Say Samal called for the effective use of natural resources, noting that they must be carefully managed and used for the benefit of the Cambodian people because of their limited availability and supply.

“We need to use Cambodia’s natural resources to improve the standard of living of our population, in the same manner as every other nation has done as its own economy developed. We also know that these resources are limited, and so we must find innovative ways to use them more efficiently and sustainably,” his statement read.

Samal – who also serves as the chairperson for the National Council for Sustainable Development – released this statement to coincide with the launching of the Asian Vision Institute’s sustainable development goals conference held via webinar on April 26.

He further noted that technological solutions exist that could assist Cambodia with issues related to sustainable use of natural resources in the energy sector, construction, transportation, water management and agriculture.

He stated that the protection and conservation of natural resources can also deliver added value to the Cambodian economy and enhance people’s livelihoods. As an example, he cited eco-tourism while cautioning that it is highly dependent on the successful preservation of Cambodia’s natural ecosystems.

“Thus, providing … communities with better and sustainable livelihoods and better economic opportunities, promoting agro-industries like cashews and soft-wood plantations, and securing market access for trade on favourable terms are some of the innovative and strategic approaches we consider viable means to address this complex nexus of issues related to use of natural resources,” Samal wrote in summary.

San Mala, advocacy officer for the Forest Defenders Project of the Cambodia Youth Network, told The Post on April 27 that because Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the ASEAN region the need to extract natural resources for economic development persisted.

He said that many natural resources – such as sand, gold, and timber – have been heavily extracted already, but there had been no transparency regarding the agreements struck between the companies exploiting the resources and the state, and thus there was no accountability to the Cambodian public, who are the true owners of the nation’s natural resources.

He said that the state bore primary responsibility for the loss of all those natural resources – justified at the time by mostly unfulfilled promises of economic development in rural areas – because the state’s decision making process excluded input from civil society organisations and citizens, nor did they share any information on these deals with the public beforehand.

“Although a large amount of the natural resources in our country have been used up, the revenues generated for the state from those developments seems to be very small relative to the profits generated,” Mala said.

“We do not absolutely reject development which provides benefits to the nation and society, but we reject any extraction of resources that occurs without first studying the impacts it will have on the community and environment,” he said.

Resident UN Coordinator in Cambodia Pauline Tamesis suggested that there are policy opportunities and possible starting points for dialogue on this issue which would allow Cambodia to accelerate its march towards prosperity for all in the short to medium term and in ways that don’t rob future generations of the benefit of Cambodia’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

“It is important that we ensure that the country we hand down to [future generations] is prosperous, secure and better prepared to withstand the shocks that they will inevitably face,” she said.