(as prepared for delivery)
Good morning, my name is Menglim Kim. I am an Environmental Specialist at USAID/Cambodia.
It is a great pleasure for me to join you today for the final “Youth Debate on Environment”. It is exciting to see student representatives from a wide variety of schools participating in this event.
Cambodia is rich in natural resources, biodiversity, and beautiful forests. The youth of Cambodia play an important role in protecting these resources and improving awareness of actions citizens can take to conserve Cambodia’s rich natural heritage.
Debate is an important tool to constructively exchange ideas and viewpoints on how to both conserve Cambodia’s resources and continue to support the country’s sustainable development. This takes effort from Cambodia’s citizens, the private sector, NGOs, civil society, and the government.
The US. Agency for International Development – or USAID – works closely with the Ministry of Environment and other partners to protect Cambodia’s natural resources. We address the causes of deforestation, land encroachment, and biodiversity loss in the Eastern Plains landscape in Mondulkiri province and the Prey Lang Landscapes in Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kratie, and Stung Treng provinces. Our work emphasizes the participation of communities, youth, students, civil society organizations, and government officials to effectively manage the country’s natural resources in a sustainable manner. Supporting this event is an important part of USAID’s environment strategy.
As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and the United States, we are also reminded that the national commitment to preserve nature is yet another tie that binds us.
But why do we protect forests? Forests provide significant ecological benefits for including critical watersheds that support important groundwater levels for Cambodians. Those watersheds provide the ability to irrigate rice fields and support healthy water levels for inland fisheries, which are crucial for the livelihoods and food security of Cambodians.
Forests also help minimize the impacts of storms and floods by controlling soil erosion as tree roots make the soil stronger. Eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity can be found in forests and, here in Cambodia, forests are home to many unique plants and animals as well as endangered species. They provide beautiful ecotourism sites for domestic and international tourists that spend millions of dollars every year to visit these unique wildlife and habitats.
Forests also play a key role in fighting climate change as they soak up and store carbon dioxide, preventing it from going to the atmosphere. Cambodia’s forests are a significant carbon pool, and if we can keep the forests standing this carbon could be sold for $7 million dollars per year.
Cambodian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 make up about 18 percent of the country’s population. As future leaders they have a great opportunity to catalyze change across generations by spreading the message of natural resource protection. They can help spread that message by talking to their friends, classmates, families, and neighbors about the importance of forests and advance the protection of natural resources as part of their daily lives.
I want to take a moment to recognize the efforts of the Ministry of Environment, led by His Excellency Minister Say Samal and subnational authorities especially the provincial governors and provincial technical departments. Together you have made environmental protection a national priority and you recognize the importance of Cambodia’s future environmental protectors – its youth and children.
Thank you and I wish you a lively and informative Youth Debate event today.