Germany has emerged as a key partner in safeguarding Cambodia’s precious wetlands, with a recently concluded multi-year initiative leaving a lasting mark on the Tonle Sap Lake and Mekong regions.

From 2016 to 2023, Germany funded the Lower Mekong Basin Management and Conservation project, a €4 million ($4.3 million) endeavour undertaken in close collaboration with the Mekong River Commission (MRC), Cambodian National Mekong Committee (CNMC) and Ministry of Environment.

This project focuses on protecting both biodiversity and ecosystems, while simultaneously boosting income generation for communities residing in the Prek Toal and Stung Treng Ramsar sites.

These ecologically significant areas fall within the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve and the Lower Mekong River Basin, in Battambang and Stung Treng provinces respectively.

Beyond this specific project, broader efforts are underway to contribute to the sustainable restoration, conservation and management of wetlands across the region.

These ongoing initiatives aim to achieve this through a multi-pronged approach, encompassing sustainable conservation practices, increased employment opportunities for local communities and enhanced capacity building for institutions managing wetland biodiversity.

Sustained initiatives focus on protecting the fisheries ecosystem of the Prek Toal Ramsar site, a vital wetland recognised for its regional and global significance, particularly for its unique birdlife.

The site provides critical habitat for globally endangered species of plants and animals, notably supporting one of the largest and most important waterfowl communities in Southeast Asia.

Ecosystem protection

German ambassador Stefan Messerer says that protecting ecosystems requires joint efforts and shared responsibility. 

“We acknowledge Cambodia's commitment to conservation and we stand ready to continuously support Cambodia in its endeavour to protect the Tonle Sap region and this planet,” he says.

Messerer delivered these remarks at the opening ceremony of a joint visit by a delegation from the EU and the environment ministry to the Tonle Sap Lake area and the Prek Toal Ramsar site in Siem Reap and Battambang provinces in late January. 

The visit aligned with the EU’s ongoing “For Our Planet” campaign, emphasising its dedication to building international partnerships that integrate environmental sustainability into diplomatic efforts for a stronger and more sustainable future.

Messerer notes the importance of the campaign and the conservation of both the PrekToal Ramsar site and the Mekong region as a whole. 

“Together we can contribute to the protection and restoration of the ecological legacy for the future of the generations to come. Let us work together and make this happen,” he says.

Beyond its involvement in the Tonle Sap region, Germany has provided support to the MRC and CNMC to enhance their capacity in tackling the escalating environmental challenges posed by climate change in the region. 

“In this regard, I think that all trans-boundary water cooperation projects supported by the Mekong River Commission are of utmost importance,” Messerer adds.

Nature’s bounty

Thriving within the Lower Mekong Basin are wetland ecosystems, acting as nature’s powerhouses. They nourish communities with fish for food, water for drinking and irrigation, and materials for building. Moreover, these wetlands buffer communities from floods by absorbing excess water and act as carbon sinks, mitigating climate change by storing greenhouse gases. Protecting these vital ecosystems is crucial for a sustainable future.

A recent press release issued by the EU in Cambodia identified key challenges in wetland management, including weak management structures, complex institutional arrangements, overlapping responsibilities, insufficient government funding, limited cooperation, ineffective coordination, legal framework disparities, transparency issues and governance concerns.

Seeing these challenges, long-term initiatives have been implemented to help address these issues.

The results of these ongoing efforts demonstrate that since 2016, the projects have played a significant role in promoting the sustainable restoration, conservation and management of wetland ecosystem functions.

Additionally, they have positively impacted the livelihoods of local communities in the targeted wetlands and enhanced the capacity of key stakeholders to sustainably manage wetlands.

The initiatives yielded regional results, with the multi-year project aiding the MRC Secretariat in establishing a wetland database and knowledge management system for disseminating best practices in the Lower Mekong Basin. Moreover, the Lower Mekong Basin Wetland Management and Conservation project facilitated the inauguration of the Prek Toal Ramsar core area management centre building in Battambang province in 2022.

Beyond borders

Germany’s commitment to regional water management extends beyond Cambodia. They have also backed a €6 million ($6.4 million) cross-border project between Cambodia and Thailand to improve flood and drought management. Additionally, another joint project is underway in the Sekong, Sesan and Srepok basin, a crucial sub-catchment of the Lower Mekong, involving both Cambodia and Laos.

In addition, Germany supports finalising the Riverine Plastic Monitoring Program Protocols and establishing a systematic mechanism for long-term control of plastic pollution in the Mekong River, including capacity building and the provision of laboratory equipment for carrying out necessary monitoring analyses.

The “For Our Planet” campaign, launched in 2022 by the EU, is a joint initiative calling for action to address global climate and natural crises. The campaign involves both EU institutions in Brussels and EU delegates around the world, including in Cambodia. Its main goal is to raise awareness and call for collective action to combat ongoing environmental challenges.

During a recent community meeting at the Prek Toal Ramsar site, environment minister Eang Sophalleth outlined the Cambodian leg of the EU’s campaign: protecting the environment, conserving resources and fostering sustainable livelihoods. He also underscored three key challenges facing the Tonle Sap Lake: wildfires, land encroachment and climate change.