The Threat Of Natural Disasters To Cambodia Environmental Sciences Essay

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A Discussion on Building Resilient Communities, A Case Study of Cambodia. All through the 20th century, cities of the world have grown in size and importance, with an estimate of about half of all people living in urban areas and their numbers are expected to rise to at least 60 per cent by 2030 (UNHSP, 2002). Ironically, while cities are of vital importance as economic engines, hubs for transportation and communications, cultural centers and homes to the majority of the earth’s people, they are particularly vulnerable to natural and environmental hazard impacts. During the 1990s, losses from natural disasters were more than four times greater than during the 1950s, with more than 500,000 fatalities and over $1 trillion in damages (Walter, 2003). The existence of multifaceted and cascading hazards in Cambodia has occurred in time past causing large destructions. These hazards that occur are most times unavoidable but their impact could be reduced if the necessary circumstances are put in place.

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Managing natural and environmental hazards is essential because they pose significant threat to the human populace, carrying the potential to disrupt economic and social activities, cause substantial damage to property and even kill people. The best form of addressing such situations is to make the necessary investigations and preparations for emergency response when (before and after) these hazards occur. Basically, building resilient cities are an act of preparation for the inevitable natural hazards. Cambodia is located in the tropical zone, Southeast Asia, about 10-13 degrees north of the equator. Its climate is dominated by the annual monsoon cycle with its alternating wet and dry seasons, making it warm to hot throughout the year. It covers an area of about 181,035 square kilometres and is divided into 24 provinces as seen in figure 1. It is bordered to the North by Thailand and Laos, to the East and South by Vietnam, and to the South and Southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. Most of Cambodia’s land is relatively flat with vast tracts of land given over to rice production.

Annual rainy season commences in July, with flooding occurring between September and December. During the monsoon season, Cambodia experiences flash floods usually after heavy rainfall. The provinces of Battambang, Kampong Chnang, Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, Kampot, Kandal, Pursat and Rattanakiri are regularly hit by flash flooding. The second type of flood, the much slower but prolonged flooding, is caused by the overflow of Tonle Sap River and Mekong tributaries, inundating the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kratie, Kandal, Prey Veng, Stung Treng, Svay Rieng and Takeo. In 2000, Cambodia saw the worst flooding in recent history, with a total estimated damage of USD150 million. It affected more than three million people in 22 of the 24 provinces of the country, displacing 85,000 families and killing 182 (ECHO, 2008).

Drought in Cambodia is characterized by loss of water sources caused by the early end or delays in expected seasonal rainfall. The traditional drought/lean season is between the months of August and November. Although not as severe as floods in terms of impact, it severely affects farming productivity especially among rice growing communities who rely solely on rain or river-fed irrigation. Low agricultural yield due to extended drought has increased indebtedness of families and contributed to widespread food shortages. The worst drought incident in 2002 had affected two million people and incurred a total damage of USD 38 million, (ECHO, 2008).

No one can stop natural disasters. However, we can reduce the impact of natural disasters on the physical and the socio-economic losses in society. It is notable that victims of disasters mainly come from the least wealthy and influential; those in unsafe houses and engaged in more dangerous activities, who have limited options and entitlements. In any case, university students killed in school annual graduation or new born babies in health care facilities are especially disturbing aspects of the aftermath of disasters. Surely, these places should put safety issues first.

Due to environmental degradation and human activities, natural hazards have been persistent. The Mekong flood in 2000 gave Cambodia the most terrible incident in the last 70 years, causing both socio-economic and physical damages. According to the official report of the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) (2006), the floods affected about 3.4 million people with 347 fatalities, 80 percent of which were children. Moreover, schools and other infrastructures such as hospitals, houses, and pagodas were seriously damaged, with a total estimated loss of US$161 million. Again, floods hit Cambodia in 2001 and 2002, damaging approximately US$36 million and US$12 million respectively. In 2001, the floods killed 62 people while in 2002 the floods killed 26 (40 percent of whom were children), and many schools were destroyed.

Figure 1.Map of Cambodia with Provinces


Because many Cambodians depend upon subsistence agriculture for their source of revenue, they are particularly vulnerable to suffering hunger, poverty, or even the loss of life, when such disasters hit. This vulnerability has increased in recent years because of a series of almost consecutive annual disasters that have not allowed people the opportunity to recover from previous floods or droughts. The Royal Government of Cambodia and other stakeholders, including NGOs and the donor communities, have been increasing cooperation to allow for joint responses to the needs of the affected population when disasters strike. The overall goal is to ascertain and address the root causes of vulnerability to disasters. There is thus a need to identify and prioritize areas that are prone to natural disasters, and areas in which the population suffers most when disasters strike.

Flood affected areas, rice dependency, and food security are considered when determining areas that should be prioritised for flood related interventions. The extent to which each an area is affected by flood waters, depends on rice production, and incapability to manufacture enough food to feed itself during flood years are taken together to classify areas into different levels of precedence. Two major types of flood were identified in Cambodia: Flash floods which result from heavy downpours upstream on the Mekong River which affect the provinces along the Mekong River and in the southern areas of the country. Central area floods are large floods that result from a combination of runoff from the Mekong and heavy rains around the Tonle Sap Lake. The waters affect the areas around the lake, but also flow heavily down the Tonle Sap River and the lower portion of the Mekong to flood the southern provinces. The first priority area is rigorously affected by any type of flood, the second area is only affected by the big central area floods, and the third area is only affected by flash flooding of the Mekong. These three priority areas are shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Flood Prone Communes


The method applied to define areas vulnerable to drought is similar to that discussed ealier. The concern evaluate include: drought affected areas, rice dependency, and food security. Areas were defined as highly rice dependent if more than 80 percent of households are fully engaged in rice production. Food insecurity was measured as above for the drought year of 1998.

Definitions for three levels of priority were again developed. First priority areas are defined as those with low precipitation and NDVI, high rice dependence, and food insecurity in 1998. These are areas where droughts are likely, and where they will have the most terrible consequences. Second priority areas have the same criteria as the first priority communes, but were not food insecure during the 1998 drought year. Third priority communes have low precipitation and NDVI, and are thus drought prone, but are neither highly rice dependent nor food insecure. The three levels of priority communes are presented in figure 3.

Figure 3 Drought Prone Communes


Vulnerability well-meant is the exposure and sensitivity to livelihood shocks and risks. Risks are the combination of the probability or frequency of occurrence of a defined hazard and the magnitude of the consequences. Natural hazards often cannot be prevented, and if they materialize, can generate a shock that affects households and communities in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Vulnerability is only to some extent determined by the type of hazard, while it is mainly determined by social systems and power (Wisner et al. 2006). The degree of vulnerability depends on the nature of the risk and a household’s resilience, or ability to recover after shocks. Vulnerability can be lessened by reducing exposure to risks of shocks that affect many people (e.g., frequent droughts) or shocks that affect individuals or households (e.g., the death of the household head) and increasing the household’s ability to manage shocks. However, chronically food-insecure households often are not resilient to shocks and are continuously vulnerable. The government in Cambodia has initiated poverty reduction policies that attempts to reduce poverty, increase food security and thus reduce vulnerability of poor households.

The concept of vulnerability links the relationship that people have with their environment to social forces and institutions and the cultural values that sustain or contest them. Vulnerability refers to the totality of relationships in a given social situation producing the formation of a condition that, in combination with environmental forces, produces a disaster. Disaster, risks and outcomes are socially produced at the intersection of a complex and dynamic range of hazard and vulnerability patterns, associated with underlying social, economic, territorial and political processes operating in specific locales. The concept of vulnerability links general political economic conditions to very particular environmental forces to understand how basic conditions such as poverty or racism produce susceptibilities to very specific environmental hazards. Vulnerability, thus, integrates not only political economic, but environmental forces, defined in terms of both biophysical and socially constructed risk. The working definition provided by Blaikie et al. is currently among the most utilized: By vulnerability we mean the characteristics of a person or group in terms of their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact of a natural hazard. It involves a combination of factors that determine the degree to which someone’s life and livelihood is put at risk by a discrete and identifiable event in nature or in society”(1994:9).

The DIPECHO project was implemented in partnership with three local NGOs for the period of 15 months (from 15/02/2007 to 14/05/2008) in three operating provinces. The project activities centre of attention primarily is on the poorest and most excluded community members, identified as being particularly vulnerable to disaster, including women and children, poor farmers, fishery communities, landless people, ex-Khmer rouge soldiers, displaced people, wage labourers, people living with or at risk from HIV and AIDS, Vietnamese minority groups, and people with disability. The total number of direct beneficiaries identified through the project was recorded as 15153, (ActionAid International, 2006). The project aim is to build the capacity of community members and local authorities in 48 target villages in the project areas in the three provinces to better understand and prepare for recurring flood and drought by implementing the following strategies:

Organise and build competence of the local community

Create and strengthen institutional systems at the village and commune level

Working in alliance with other actors and government on disaster risk reduction programmes

Advocating on Disaster Risk Management (DRM) issues and influencing the concerned officials and institutions

Capacity building of the existing institutions, communes and the various organs of the National committee on disaster management at commune, district, province level

Conducting a detailed vulnerability analysis, developing village level disaster plans and formulating commune disaster risk management plans

The following were the outcomes on the completion of the project:

The capacity of Commune Committees for Disasters Management and Village Development Committees was enhanced to analyse their vulnerability and actively prepare their communities for the risks of flood and drought.

Increased availability of Disaster Preparedness knowledge and skills across community members in target villages.

Reduced vulnerability to disaster through small-scale disaster preparedness and mitigation initiatives carried out at the village community level.

Formal structures and network of partnerships for community-based disaster risk management in Cambodia (CBDRM) comprise of an approach that builds upon existing capacities and coping systems of communities to jointly plan and apply appropriate and durable reduction and disaster preparedness plans. The strategy involves the participation of local actors, particularly vulnerable communities, who actively work to identify causes of vulnerability and actions to mitigate the impact of vulnerability from these natural disasters. Furthermore, the strategy aids communities towards long term capacity to adapt. With recurring drought and flooding and threats from other natural disasters in Cambodia, CBDRM is seen as a pacesetter in reducing massive loss of life, property and livelihood. The Cambodian government considers CBDRM as an essential part of its rural development program to alleviate poverty (ActionAid International, 2006).

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The major purpose of sustainable development is to generate and preserve flourishing ecological, social and economic systems. There exists an intimate link between these systems as humans can transform the ecological system and they also depend on it for food, wealth and security. Human actions can severely affect the ability of the ecosystem to perform its natural functions with adverse consequences for vulnerability, human life and security. Several case studies have helped shed more light on the connection between resilience, sustainability of social ecological systems and diversity (Berkes and Folke, 1998). Resilience basically refers to the degree of shock that concerned system can endure and stay within a given state. It can also be the degree to which the system concerned can organize itself or build capacity for learning and adaptation.

It has been argued that two components of any given system affect its resilience, one being its adaptive capacity which is directly related to its heterogeneity and broadly equivalent t the diversity of its institutions and assets available in social systems. The second is its robustness and this refers to the properties of a given system that allow it accommodate disturbance without additional adaptation. Resilience and robustness refer to the capacity of the system to accommodate disturbance without losing functionality. Disaster management style or procedure can destroy or build resilience depending on how the community concerned organises itself in response to management actions.

Building societal resilience requires understanding of ecosystems that incorporates knowledge of local users (Olsson and Folke, 2001). Structured Scenarios and active adaptive management have been recognized as fundamental to building resilience. Circumstances are used to envisage option future scenarios. Applying this action, resilience building strategies can be acknowledged and applied within the framework of sustainable development. The probability of sustainable development is improved by management for resilience in a dynamic world full of astonishments.

Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use aimed at meeting human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. It brings together the concern for carrying capacity of natural systems and social challenges faced by humanity. It is now clear that sustainable development that regard the impact of man’s activities on the natural environment and attempts to reduce damage to the natural environment is the key to poverty reduction, environmental security and management and mitigation of weather and water related hazards. It basically targets resource poor and landless communities especially in the coastal regions because of population density, rapidly declining natural resources, work and income security and a high level of vulnerability to these hazards. With the understanding that environmental degradation can be tackled by knowledge and technological empowerment of the resource poor, illiterate rural man and women, the major aim of these programmes is to blend technological frontier with local knowledge in order to provide an integrated orientation to technological development and dissemination.

As local communities confront the impacts of glacial melting, rainfall fluctuation, flooding and drought, they will need support to strengthen their capacity to withstand these changes and increase their resilience to the effects of a changing climate on international waters. Rivers, lakes and coastal ecosystems are increasingly being impacted by deforestation, land degradation, poor water management, and aquatic species loss as well as changes in fisheries habitats, water scarcity and floods or droughts precipitated or exacerbated by climate change, making communities more socially, economically and physically vulnerable. Local communities have shown, through ecosystem restoration, integrated water resources and coastal management and development that these activities can help communities associated with international waters increase their resilience to climatic variability and future effects of climate change. While in some cases it may be too early to gauge the adaptation success of local projects since it may entail preparing for future climate events and impacts, this publication provides some examples of how communities have successfully conserved their resources, restored their ecosystems, reduced their vulnerability and improved their livelihoods and increased their resilience to environmental threats and climate change in international waters. Resilient communities are far less vulnerable to hazards and disasters than less resilient places. For this assumption to be validated and useful, knowledge of how resilience is determined, measured, enhanced, maintained, and reduced is vital (Klein et al., 2003). It is not obvious what leads to resilience within coupled human—environment systems or what variables should be utilized to measure it. Because of the multidimensional nature of resilience and its different component parts, a broad model of resilience has yet to be empirically tested at the community level (Cumming et al., 2005).


The existence of a growing incidence in the occurrence of natural hazards can be accredited to a multifaceted world where increase in population is present. Vulnerability are ever-increasing in communities due to human activities. However, climate change and sea level rise may be accountable for augmented occurrence of some of these hazards. Globalization also spreads the cost of natural hazards going beyond the borders of the country directly affected. Technological and science based progress in our pursuit to understand natural hazards, applications and technological responses have clearly been insufficient. Response to disaster happen mostly after the event and so much is required to be put in place to sustain research and draw up programmes for risk assessment, recommend countermeasures, build and strengthen resilience in communities at risk. Researchers and disaster managers need to work hard to ensure vigorous knowledge takes a essential role in policy development. In this, local communities will be more resilient to natural and environmental hazards


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