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Cambodia, country in Southeast Asia, is rich in natural and cultural resources which has been considered as the great potential for tourism and economy development.
- Rivers and Lakes
- Plants and Animals
- Natural Resources
- Environmental Issues
Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq mi). Most of the country consists of a low-lying alluvial plain that occupies the central part of the country. To the southeast of the plain lies the delta of the Mekong River. To the east of the plain, ranges of undulating hills separate Cambodia from Vietnam. To the southwest a mountain range, the Chuŏr Phnum Krâvanh, fringes the plain and forms a physical barrier along the country’s coast. Cambodia’s highest peak, Phnom Aural (1,813 m/5,948 ft) rises in the eastern part of this range. To the north, the Chuŏr Phnum Dângrêk mountains separate Cambodia from Thailand.
Rivers and Lakes
Cambodia’s most important river is the Mekong, the longest river in Southeast Asia and the tenth largest in the world. The Mekong flows from north to south through Cambodia and is navigable for much of its course. Other rivers in the country include the Tônlé Srêpôk and the Tônlé Sab. Cambodia’s principal lake, the Tônlé Sap (Great Lake), is the largest in Southeast Asia. From the northwest, the Tônlé Sap drains into the Mekong via the Tônlé Sab River, entering the Mekong at Phnom Penh. Each year during the monsoon season (approximately May to October), the waters of the Mekong increase and reverse the flow of the Tônlé Sab, which begins to drain into the lake. The lake then expands dramatically, flooding the provinces along its banks. When dry weather returns, the river reverses its course again and flows back into the Mekong, draining the northwestern provinces. At the height of the flooding, the Tônlé Sap reaches more than 10,000 sq km (4,000 sq mi), or about four times its size in the dry season. The lake is one of the richest sources of freshwater fish in the world.
Plants and Animals
Forests cover 53 percent of Cambodia’s land. The densest forests thrive in the mountains and along the southwestern coast. Higher plains and plateaus contain savannas covered with high, sharp grass. Plants growing in Cambodia include rubber, kapok (a tree with seeds that yield a cotton-like fiber), palm, coconut, and banana, all of which are exploited commercially.
Wildlife in Cambodia includes elephants, deer, wild ox, panthers, bears, and tigers. Cormorants, cranes, parrots, pheasants, and wild ducks are also found, and poisonous snakes are numerous. Logging and mining activities, along with unregulated hunting, have diminished the country’s wildlife rapidly.
Of Cambodia’s total land area, only 21 percent is cultivated. Areas surrounding the Mekong and the Tônlé Sap are the most fertile regions. The country’s once-ample timber resources have been poorly managed and are being rapidly depleted by local and foreign entrepreneurs. Although Cambodia is not rich in mineral resources, Bătdâmbâng province in northwestern Cambodia contains limited quantities of zircons, sapphires, and rubies. The central part of the country contains commercial deposits of salt, manganese, and phosphate. The Gulf of Thailand is thought to contain petroleum deposits, but the extent and accessibility of the reserves have yet to be determined.
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate. December and January are the coolest months, while March and April are the hottest. The country’s rainy season extends from May to October. Average annual rainfall is about 1,400 mm (about 55 in) on the central plain and increases to as much as 3,800 mm (150 in) in the mountains and along the coast. The average annual temperature is about 27°C (about 80°F).
Deforestation is the most serious threat to Cambodia’s environment. In the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian forests and wetlands were harmed by bombings and defoliants used in the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and 1980s the damage continued with the disastrous agricultural policies of the Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. In the relatively peaceful 1990s, timber became an important export for Cambodia. More than 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of Cambodian forest were cut down from 1990 to 1995. In 1995 the government responded by banning log exports, but illegal timber exporting has led to continued deforestation. The annual rate of deforestation in 1990–2000 was 0.58 percent.
Many of the mangrove swamps crucial to the country’s fisheries and wildlife have been destroyed. The loss of wildlife habitat and the negative environmental effects of logging and mining industries have caused a decline in biodiversity. In 2002, 89 species were listed as threatened in Cambodia, including 24 species of mammals. In addition, the pollution and contamination of streams and lakes has made much of the country’s fresh water unsafe. Only 30 percent (2000) of all Cambodian people have access to safe, drinkable water, and only 17 percent (2000) have access to sanitation.
In addition to banning the export of lumber, the Cambodian government has declared a large portion— 15.8 percent (2000)—of the country’s total land area protected. The government has also ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, endangered species, marine life conservation, ship pollution, and tropical timber.