Prime Minister Hun Sen is chairing the seventh Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit today. The theme of the meeting is “Renewed Strength to Face the Challenges of the New Decade”.
One of the biggest challenges to the region is climate change, which has huge economic costs on top of the social upheaval and environmental damage caused by the floods and droughts that have been hitting the region with increasing intensity.
The Mekong River Commission for Sustainable Development (MRC) warned this week that floods and droughts cause more damage and fatalities than any other natural disasters.
“The repercussions of floods alone account for $70 million annually. These damages have devastating ecological impacts on affected communities and sectors,” said the intergovernmental organisation. “Recent MRC studies show that these trends will persist in the coming decades, requiring collective efforts to address the problems.”
Cambodia’s government forecasts a 12.6 percent rise in annual rainfall by 2039 compared with figures from 1986 to 2005.
Agriculture contributed just under 23 percent to Cambodia’s economy last year but the farming and fishing communities were hit hard by the volatile weather. The Cambodia Rice Federation said that from May to August last year dried-out rice paddies forced farmers to replant 40 percent of their crop and the yield from the remaining 60 percent was much lower.
Falling water levels, from drought and damming, have also reduced the stock of Cambodia’s freshwater fish, mostly caught in the Mekong and Bassac rivers. About 6 million people work in fisheries or fisheries-related activities in Cambodia and their catch contributes as much as 12 percent to gross domestic product, according to a 2019 report by the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.
Droughts and floods don’t just cause problems in the farming and fishing communities: They also damage rural infrastructure. Three years ago heavy rains and rising water levels in the Mekong and Bassac rivers damaged 27,000 hectares of land in Prey Veng province. Drought damaged another 29,000 hectares leading to as much as $16 million in losses, according to the provincial department of agriculture. In 2020, floods affected 19 out of 25 of Cambodia’s provinces, damaging many types of rural infrastructure.
The GMS summit takes place every three years and this session will review progress made since the 2018 meeting in Vietnam. It will also look at future cooperation and activities, with support from the Asian Development Bank, whose president Masatsugu Asakawa will attend. The ADB said it did not want to comment on the agenda ahead of the meeting but would release a statement once the summit had finished.
Prime Minister Hun Sen will be joined by Chea Sophara, Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol, Senior Minister Ieng Mouly, who is chairman of the National AIDS Authority, and Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia will join, along with other relevant ministers.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the prime ministers of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Vietnam will attend by video conference.