This summer has been the summer of challenges. Turmoil in the world has created an aura of uncertainty, as institutions are under constant challenges. In a way, my research on climate change has been the study of uncertainty, turmoil, and foreboding of what is to come. The study of foreboding events, though disconcerting, provides opportunity for education, preparation, and reflection, and this is undoubtedly true for climate change.
At times, my research was difficult to get into. The literature is overwhelmingly pessimistic about humanity's future, and especially for developing nations like Cambodia. Working remotely, these issues are all abstract to me. I have never seen the Mekong River, a rice paddy, or even met a Cambodian in person. Despite these limitations in my personal experience, I hope that I was somehow able to get past my shortcomings and in some small way contribute to Cambodia's battle on climate change.
My report was divided up into three sections. The first focused on the environmental and economic impacts that rising sea levels will have within the region. Cambodia is among the world's most threatened nations by the effects of climate change, and according to the UN's climate risk index, it is ranked as the 19th most exposed nation. Its geographic placement and economic dependence on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture create a concerning combination of challenges that will need to be addressed. Rising sea levels expect to reclaim thousands of hectares of land along Cambodia's coastline and communities along the Mekong River face issues like saltwater intrusion and increasingly powerful flooding events that will destroy crops, homes, and local infrastructure. If this were not bad enough, Cambodia could also be facing humanitarian challenges to accommodate climate refugees from nations like Vietnam. The Mekong delta to Cambodia's southern border is home to some 20 million Vietnamese people, and as sea levels continue to rise, these people may be forced from their homes to migrate further inland.
The second section of my report covered Cambodia's national emergency preparedness capabilities. Cambodia is no stranger to natural disasters, and this is particularly relevant in the countries mitigative arsenal to limit the impacts of climate change. Nearly every province experiences a disaster level flooding event during the summer monsoon season, and the government has emphasized national response capability development in recent years. One of the most exciting developments is the deployment of a national early warning system, which sends emergency alerts to people's cell phones when a region is at risk of a disaster event. Since January 2017, the system has sent out over 280,000 warning calls during 37 different hazard events, saving an untold number of lives. Additionally, significant investments have been made, with support from the international community, to build disaster-resilient infrastructure in at-risk populations, constructing thousands of kilometers of roads, bridges, dykes, and irrigation systems. Progress has been outstanding and encouraging as Cambodia has developed in the past few decades.
The final section of my report discussed challenges in Cambodia's inadequate enforcement of its environmental regulations. In addition to added threats, climate change has on its population, economic and social forces are working against Cambodia's efforts to mitigate impending harm. Though Cambodia has rapidly developed in the past decades, rural populations still mostly live in poverty, and as climate change undermines impoverished community's economic security, people are less inclined to abide by national regulations when faced with immediate hardship. Additionally, the Cambodian civil society is overwhelmingly corrupt, frequently taking bribes from corporate interests and undercutting national environmental policy.
Assessments made on Cambodia's future are undoubtedly grim, but I do not think that will be the story of Cambodia this century. Incredible progress has been made within Cambodia over the past 20 years, and I see no reason why this cannot continue despite the additional challenges. If the rest of Cambodia is anything like the ODC team I have worked with this summer, then they are in good hands for the future.
After my research, I still feel that I have only scratched the surface. Perhaps once everything blows over, I can finally make the journey to see this mysterious and ancient nation for myself. I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to work for ODC this summer and hope that my work could prove beneficial in ODC's mission to educate the public and further the nation's economic and social development.