Effects of climate change visible across Cambodia

Climate change, migration and public health are key defining issues of our time. The Kingdom of Cambodia is among countries least responsible for climate change globally, yet, at the same time, it is consistently ranked highest among countries most vulnerable to climate change. Specifically, Cambodia is identified among the three most vulnerable countries in Asia. With communities increasingly affected across the Kingdom, WeWorld NGO teamed up with the Royal University of Phnom Penh to frame the nexus between Climate Change and Migration in Cambodia in a recently published research and two video projects. 

“Waiting for Rain” - Impact on Siem Reap Province

WeWorld-GVC conducted field visits and studied the impact of climate change on the communities. In Siem Reap the NGO teamed up with Swiss filmmaker Roman Giger. In the short-film “Waiting for Rain” Giger depicts the plight of communities living on the banks of the Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. 

The lake depends heavily on the yearly monsoon rains and the reversal of the course of the Tonle Sap river, which floods it with water from the Mekong. Thanks to this, the lake’s volume varies considerably over the course of the year. At the peak of the rainy season, in late September and October it expands 10-fold and initiates a seasonal migration of fish and human settlements who depend on it.

In recent years, the lake and its surrounding ecosystems have come increasingly under pressure from deforestation, infrastructure development and climate change which are impacting the natural way of life on the lake.

Chem Oeurn and his family have always lived on the lake. The fisherman notices the impact of climate change on his surroundings. “The weather changes and the forests are disappearing. Because we don’t have enough water, fish won’t breed and spawn eggs.” – he explains. 

Of late it has become increasingly difficult to feed his family and he seeks alternatives to fishing. “Sometimes we have to buy fish from the market.” Members of the family regularly migrate to Thailand or to other provinces. They tried to diversify by starting a small chili farm. However, this year, due to the prolonged drought they managed to harvest very little. At the same time, migration is not a feasible option due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

Difficulties of Newcomers to Phnom Penh

Farmers abandoning their fields to seek job opportunities in the cities often face health issues caused by air pollution, poor living conditions, deteriorating diet due lack of funds and increasing prices of food. On top of that, lack of family bonding opportunities or a financial safety net take an additional toll on migrants. 

“Phnom Penh will be affected by the high heat in the future. We have a lot of air conditioners, a lot of vehicles, like in Bangkok.” – explains Dr. Seak Sophat.  The nature of work of the migrant workers who often work outside or in crowded factories, excessive overtime and increasing temperatures will further impact the livelihoods of migrants in the long-term. Mr. Phon Pinn is a migrant construction worker now based in Phnom Penh who was interviewed in the second short film project by the WeWorld-GVC. He sees that impact already. “When the weather is too hot, we need to spend (money) on drinking water and food. We also need gloves, hats, and shoes while working. When it rains we are required to stop working, but there is no pay for us while we rest.” 

Mrs Luy Sokunthea who migrated to Phnom Penh in 2004 and works now as a garment factory worker, notices that her health is deteriorating. “The city is so stuffy, there is no breathing air” – she explains to the researchers. “I get sick a lot and I have a cold every month”.

About the project

Research and both short films were created as part of the RESILIACT-Resilience- strengthening of local communities through a transnational EU Aid Volunteers capacity building action project funded by the EU Aid Volunteers of the European Union. Activities of RESILIACT project in Cambodia include training on climate change resilience and adaptation strategies, capacity building workshops and seminars, research and field work. Among the different project objectives, the action aims to strengthen the resilience and protection of local communities in South and South-East Asia, which are affected by issues related to food security, migration, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as climate adaptation of the region. Moreover, it aims at building the capacity of local organizations and local responders to take part in the EU Aid Volunteers initiative.

*Powered by Focus – Ready for Tomorrow to produce the “Migration to Phnom Penh” video and host the campaign page, this project was made possible with the support of WeWorld NGO.


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