The Point of No Return

The Phnom Penh Post

The Tonle Sap is “doomed”. The ecosystem of the gigantic lake – whose annual flood cycle has been the pulse of Cambodia for millennia, and on which millions depend for food and irrigation – is set to spectacularly collapse, throwing into question everything from Cambodia’s food security, to its economy, to its demographics. At least, that is, if drastic measures aren’t taken – and soon.

Such was the prevailing sentiment at the International Symposium on Flood pulse Ecosystems, where researchers convened last week in Siem Reap for a conference whose tone alternated between frustrated and funereal. In more than a dozen interviews, Cambodian and international experts from a range of natural and social sciences studying the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap and the surrounding floodplain pointed to the already-visible effects of climate change, overfishing and dam construction on the indispensable ecosystem as cause for tremendous concern.

Acknowledging that changes have already been seen in annual rainfall and to the all-important “flood pulse” – the cyclical flooding of the Tonle Sap from the Mekong River that is crucial for fish production and floodplain agriculture – Environment Minister Say Sam Al pledged support for researchers and issued a call for solutions.

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