Local action in Cambodia

What's possible when people join forces

Collecting fuel wood in the flooded forest (Photo: GECKO Center)


Chong Khneas is a floating community of 5 000 people. The whole community -- 700 houseboats, shops, temples, barbers and the GECKO Environment Center -- moves location with the seasonal rise and fall of Tonle Sap Lake, often up to 12 times a year.

Chong Khneas was the first community in which the GECKO Center and the FAO participatory natural resource management project held a workshop to identify the area's main environmental problems. Villagers identified as their main problems waste management and the cutting of the flooded forest and decided to establish a committee to remedy them.

"We agreed to look at waste management first," says the chief of the environment committee in Chong Khneas, Part Tou Sou. "There is no easy solution to the waste problem in a floating village where we have no land to bury waste."

On World Environment Day in June 2000, the committee and the GECKO Center organized a clean-up day, making a community event out of collecting garbage, making trash cans and informing fellow villagers about environmentally sustainable ways of disposing of waste.

Since the committee was established less than a year ago, all children in Chong Khneas have had at least one session of environmental education at the GECKO Center. In addition, the committee members have visited all the families personally to tell them about waste management -- a task that proved a little complicated and time-consuming, as the families move their houseboats many times a year and addresses are an unknown concept. The environment committee is also making a video about protecting Tonle Sap Lake to raise awareness in the area.

The main focus in Chong Khneas and in other villages around the lake is now on reducing cutting of the flooded forest and the use of illegal fishing gear. The villages depend completely on the forest, as it provides breeding grounds and nutrition for fish, fuelwood and shelter from storms. "You can't make people stop collecting fuelwood for cooking," says Has Piron, lead facilitator at the GECKO Center. "But we have taught them just to cut the branches they need and leave the trees to grow. And it works."

30 January 2002

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