Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

My work involves undercover investigating. I have disguised myself as a cook, a driver, a timber dealer and a tourist in order to collect evidence of the illegal logging happening in Cambodia, where we have some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Criticising the government and timber magnates is very risky. My former colleague, Chut Wutty, was murdered by unknown assailants in 2012 while showing journalists an illegal logging camp in the southwest. Rangers in National Parks are often targets and have been shot for confronting illegal loggers. My family often have to move around if we fear for our safety.

I was born in Takeo province, where my parents were farmers. At the height of the Khmer Rouge, my family had to move from place to place to survive. When we moved to Phnom Penh, I cleaned classrooms in exchange for lessons. I won a scholarship to study law, which is when I began to notice the illegality occurring in Cambodia's forests.

Since 2000, the government has been leasing large portions of the forest to private companies through Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). On paper these encourage large-scale agricultural plantations of cassava, sugar and rubber. However, in reality, ELCs are used as a disguise for illegal logging of coveted tree species, such as rosewood. Sawmills are set up within the ELC area and are used to launder illegal timber from the surrounding area. The illegal timber is then sold to markets in Vietnam and China for furniture. We are in a situation where legitimate development permits are being used to illegally clear land.

We want the Prime Minister Hun Sen, the National Assembly and the Ministry of the Environment to close all the sawmills in our protected forests. The sawmills are the epicentre of the logging and cause a wide ring of devastation.

Initially, the ELCs were supposed to develop livelihoods for the people--they were meant to establish schools, hospitals and boost the economy. In reality, they are destroying communities. Companies force villagers off the leased area, they erect fences, block waterways and reduce local economies. High-ranking officials and tycoons own the sawmills and private companies, meanwhile villagers have to buy bottled water and earn a pittance as employees. That being said, most people refuse to work for private companies as they treat local people like the enemy.

Environmentally, it is devastating. The trees are removed with the roots so they can never grow back. …

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