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6. Environmental impacts of wood energy consumption

6.1 Deforestation
6.2 Forest loss in the study areas
6.3 The consumption of energy in the household
6.4 Alternative energy forms

The provision of wood energy is generally thought to be a major contributor to forest loss, although the study did not find this always to be true. In attempting to assess the environmental impact of wood energy provision and consumption, it was also necessary to consider the environmental impacts related to the provision and consumption of alternate forms of energy.

6.1 Deforestation

Forest loss in the Kingdom of Cambodia has accelerated rapidly over the last few years. The most recent information from satellite imagery between 1990 and 1993 suggests that 63% of the country is covered with forest (JAFTA 1995), a decrease from 73% in 1970. However, other sources suggest that the forest cover could be as low as 30% (Global Witness, 1995). Throughout the study, forest loss has been seen to be due to:

· more than 2 decades of war
· logging concessions
· agricultural clearance
· construction
· collection of woodfuels.

Extraction of wood within the supply areas clearly affects the forest and the environment. Some of these impacts can be seen in the study areas. The rainfall is increasingly irregular, biodiversity has been lost. Communities have experienced flooding and drought, which adversely affects the most important sector in the country's economy, that of agriculture. The local populations are concerned about these impacts, which affect not only the environment but the whole social economy.

6.2 Forest loss in the study areas

6.2.1 Kratie province
6.2.2 Kampong Thom province
6.2.3 Kampong Speu province
6.2.4 Kampong Chhnang province

6.2.1 Kratie province

In 1970, the forest grew around the villages and wildlife was abundant. Land behind the village was cleared during the Khmer Rouge regime, and after that time trees were cut for construction of housing and to clear land for agriculture. From 1984 to 1990, the closest forested areas were about 5 - 6 km away. Now the wood collectors travel 10 - 15 km to the forest. Communities in the study area of Prek Prasap are located along the River Mekong, and the main environmental problem faced is increased flooding. In 1996, the area experienced its worst flood since 1978, when the river rose 1 metre above its bank, destroying some of the charcoal kilns. Floods were also reported for 1991 and 1994.

Until recently, there were only a few charcoal kilns and firewood was collected from the forest mainly for local consumption with few effects on the natural forest. Forest lost in this way will recover if the trees are cut using appropriate techniques. There are now large areas which have been granted to companies through logging concessions. The exploitation of logs in the concession areas, provides great benefits to the concession companies, but few to the local communities, greatly reducing their motivation to protect the environment. Charcoal production has developed on a huge scale, and Kratie is one of the main supplying areas for Phnom Penh and the forest continues to recede. This suggests that it is the demand from the commercial markets in urban areas, rather than wood energy for local consumption which causes on forest loss.

In the areas which have been cut, young trees are growing and the communities believe that the forest can recover to its original form and attract the lost wildlife to return. They therefore see no problems with their trade, but if the demand for charcoal decreases, they expect to be able to gain an income from rice and vegetable production.

6.2.2 Kampong Thom province

Kampong Thom had 68% forest cover in 1969 which provided a habitat for a diverse range of wildlife including tigers, monkeys and deer. Forest cover has since been reduced to 30% and wildlife has been lost due to war, logging concessions and agricultural clearance. A large amount of the forest was lost between 1992 - 1995 and charcoal production was viewed as a contributory factor. Kampong Thom has a large brick industry which also places great pressures on the forested areas as wood is used to fire the kilns.

Land is now being cleared to establish cashew plantations in the revival of an industry well established by the local agricultural department throughout the 1960s. Planting of cashew trees should enhance the environment by replacing some of the many lost trees, and should be beneficial to the local communities who can earn large incomes from the sales of the fruit.

The loss of forests is leading to a loss of soil quality and for the first time the communities in this area are noticing soil turn to sand. They also reported increasingly irregular rainfall and a hotter climate.

6.2.3 Kampong Speu province

As recently as 1990, the forest areas were found along the roadside, and one village could not be seen from the next. Now the forest has receded a great distance, and firewood collectors spend a whole day going to the forest.

Original residents of the area cut trees to supply the commercial markets of Phnom Penh. Lands to the north and south of National Route 4 have been allocated to military or industrial developments, and landless families are prohibited from going into these areas. An earlier study (MoE/MAFF/CEMP, 1997) indicated that wood was collected from Kirirom Mountain. Recently, park rangers have been installed in the National Park, but the effect of this on wood collectors has not yet been seen.

More recent migrants have been given land within the military development area next to the boundary of Kirirom National Park, and here the provision of wood energy is secondary to land clearance for agriculture.

Temporary migrants move into the area during the dry season solely to cut trees for sawmills and the wood energy trade. They show no concern for their actions because it is not their permanent home.

There are a lot of sawmills in the forest, including some illegal ones, and many of the villagers were employed in cutting trees for this trade. Off-cuts of wood are sold as firewood to urban areas, although its supply cannot be directly linked to forest loss.

Within the study area, people are aware of the environmental impacts of cutting trees, having experienced flooding, drought and loss of soil quality, but they have no other income generating opportunities.

6.2.4 Kampong Chhnang province

The study areas of Anglongton and Speanpo are located along the roadside. In 1979, forest covered land behind the villages, but now the wood collectors spend 2 days at a time to make a return trip to the forest. Many people expect the forest to have disappeared over the next 2-3 years, but are not too concerned as they believe that forest will regenerate on the cleared land behind the villages. The study team was unable to assess the environmental changes in the production areas as at the time of the study they were inaccessible.

6.3 The consumption of energy in the household

Burning woodfuels within the household creates indoor pollution as firewood and charcoal both produce smoke on burning. The extent of this problem depends on the species of wood and the quality of charcoal, both of which are becoming poorer. Effects on the user include respiratory and eye problems.

Cooking with LPG or electricity eliminates these problems but are clearly outside the financial limits of low-income households.

6.4 Alternative energy forms

There are environmental impacts connected to all types of energy use and these need to be considered in planning for a sustainable energy mix. A recent study estimates emissions from generators within Phnom Penh as follows:


Amount (in Tonnes)



Sulphur Dioxide


Nitrogen Dioxide




Carbon Monoxide


Source: MoE, 1996

The air pollutants are mostly concentrated in the urban areas, but their impacts affect a much wider area. The emissions are low in comparison to neighbouring countries, but will increase with development. Noise pollution related to generators is also a big problem in Phnom Penh.

Fossil fuels, such as LPG and oil are becoming increasingly popular in the country. Increased combustion of these fuels will increase CO2 and other emissions. If the increased use of these fuels means that trees will be left standing, the impact of these emissions can be reduced through absorption of CO2. However, a sustainable supply of wood energy would allow an indigenous, renewable energy source which also provides other forest products and environmental stability.

Within the Kingdom of Cambodia, energy developments are focusing on hydropower development. Energy from river sources can be hugely beneficial in economic terms, but the environmental impacts may be devastating to the country's unique hydrologic cycle.

It is clear therefore, that environmental impact assessment is crucial in energy planning.

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