Case Studies

Divya Jeevan Foundation,

Phnom Koulen and Tonle Sap- key facts, insights and possibilities

Siem Reap offered a unique opportunity to look at a watershed system in its entirety, commencing with the hills of Phnom Kullen, flowing through the flood plains of Siem Reap and finally draining into the Tonle Sap lake. Several interesting initiatives regarding water resources have taken place in the province, but the ones that stand out in terms of the possibilities of collaborations with and adaption by the Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, are the cases of Koulen National Park and the KompongPlouk community in the Tonle Sap area. Both these cases present ample opportunitiesfor engagement with communities in order to achieve wider economic benefits (WEBs), gender inclusion while at the same time creating a positive ground level discourse around sustainable and equitable management of water, natural and cultural resources.

Phnom Koulen National Park

The Phnom Koulen(Mountain of the Lychees) Park, officially known as Chaya Vorman Norodom Phnom KoulenNational Park, is located in SvayLeu District of Siem Reap Province of Cambodia. It was declared a National park in 1993 and offers an interesting ensemble of heritage, culture and natural resources. The range stretches for about 40 km and is considered as a holy mountain in Cambodia with both Hindus and Buddhists visiting it for purpose of pilgrimage. The park is managed jointly by Departments of Forestry, Environment and Fishery. Tourism activities are co-managed by private entities and communities as well.

Koulen mountain is a crucial watershed for the entire Siem Reap flood plain and contributes around 40% of the water resources, which ultimately drains into the TonleSap lake. While the mountains do not usually suffer from any water shortage, there was a drought in 2016 which alerted both authorities and communities about the danger of degradation of the forest and natural resources. The threat imposed by climate change may have also contributed to the degeneration. In the face of such threats, reforestation initiatives were taken up by the concerned authorities, communities and NGOs. The reforestation initiative was also linked with tourism activities offering tourists the opportunity to buy saplings and plant them in designated plantation parks.

Small villages nestle along the mountain and the main livelihood activities of these folk include subsistence agriculture, forest gathering, livestock and tourism.

Various organizations are involved in the management of the Koulen mountain national park. These include departments under the Ministry of Environment and Ministry Of Culture And Fine Arts; Local authorities at the provincial district and commune levels; Angkor institute, which is responsible for tourist management in Koulen mountain; Apsara authorities which are involved in the protection and management of the area; NGOs such as The Archaeology and Development Foundation (ADF, which contributes to  research on opportunities  for buttressing incomes of the local communities) and Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodivers (ACCB, which contributes to research on conservation and protection of flora and fauna of the region); and the  Norkor Kor Thlork Company which has obtained the right from government to oversee tourist management in Koulen resort for a  period of 30 years, of which 20 remain at present.

The Koulen National Park has an interesting ensemble of heritage, culture and natural resources. It bears resemblance with some places in the Brahmaputra-Meghna basins e.g. Unakoti in Tripura. Both Koulen and Unakoti harbour heritage sites and sculptures, they are both forested areas. Further research will perhaps reveal finer points of resemblance. The nature of the entire watershed area from the Koulen Mountains to the Tonle Sap flood plain and lake is also similar to the waterscape in the hills of Meghalaya and the flood plains of Bangladesh.

The national park is facing challenges with regard to the management of natural resources and wildlife conservation, commercial tourism, community and livelihoods, and also in respect of waste management. Though local communities are involved in tourism related activities, the community involvement in management, conservation and tourism is not sufficient. This is mainly because of lack of awareness, reachout and skills. Low levels of community engagement compound the challenges to protection of wildlife and natural resources. The communities are involved in providing tourist services like food, small souvenir and gift shops, etc at places of interest. To a less extent they are involved in conservation activities. The forest officials undertook campaigns to sensitise them about the need for retaining forest covers, maintaining natural resources, etc., particularly after the 2016 drought and have also taken them on board and involved them for the preservation and protection of natural and national resources through various activities. These include:

  • Patrolling the area in keeping with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment (MoE)
  • Using national/natural resources in keeping with technical guidelines  of MoE
  • Contributing to re-plantation or afforestation thereby rehabilitating forestry
  • Reporting to environment officials about illegal or offensive activities that are damaging to national resources  

Tonle Sap- Kampong Plouk

Kampong Plouk is a village built on stilts on the Tonle Sap in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia. The name means "Harbor of the Tusks" possibly reminiscent of the thriving trade that used to happen with the aid of elephants in the region in historic times. The entire area is under water for 6 months(May - October) in a year and the communities living there have adapted their lives, livelihood and culture to work around this unique traits.

The communities living in this region look upon the flood water as an asset rather than a liability. Instead of recurring investment on prevention and containment of the floods, the community thrives on fishing throughout the wet season. They take resource to farming in the dry season, mainly for subsistence and also indulge in ecotourism and other small business activities. The share is approximately fishery (70%), tourism (20%) and small businesses (5%). The community also has thrift activities in the form of “Savings Groups”  that, in addition to providing loans for commercial activities, take up community development projects including preservation of flood forests and biodiversity that are major attractions for tourists.The community ensures sustainable systems through well-managed benefit sharing mechanisms, gender inclusion and emphasis on natural resource conservation. The small boat services in Kampong Plouk are a wonderful example of community-regulated, participatory tourist services with fair benefit sharing.

Community-Regulated and Participatory Boating Services for Tourists with  Benefit Sharing Mechanisms

Community Owned and Regulated

  • Each household owns at least 1 boat and belongs to a boating group
  • There are five boating groups comprising small boats, each having 30 boats.

Fair and Participatory Process

  • The 5 groups (small boats) can offer their boating services on a rotational basis,usually one group gets one day at a time.
  • Average Tourist footfall in the community per day is 500, though not everyone opts for a boat ride.
  • In case of more than usual tourist footfall on a day, the next group in line is given the opportunity to cater to tourists after  the first group has fulfilled its quota for the day (roughly one ride for each of the 30 boats in a group)

Gender Inclusion

  • All small boats are managed exclusively by women and they charge USD5 per ride

Benefit Sharing

  • The benefit (USD 5) from each boat ride is divided in a regulated way – USD 1 goes as commission to the Agent who brings in the tourist, USD 2 goes to the boat owner/household, USD1 goes to the Community funds
  • The entire cycle is regulated by rules agreed upon at the community level and it also ensures fair and sustainable benefit sharing with some funds allocated for maintenanceexpenditure that is undertaken by the community
  • Given the similarities in climatic, geographical conditions and in certain cases, cultural nuances, many communities and places in the Brahmaputra-Meghna basin (e.g. Majuliisland in Assam, India, Ratargul Swamp Forest in Sylhet, Bangladesh) can emulate the Kampong Plouk community, in regard to adaptation, conservation and tourism.
  • The Kampong Plouk community faces challenges in terms of solid waste management, and water monitoring and management (both waste and drinking water). Drinking water comes from bore-well. The houses in the village have their own waste pit and septic tank at the backyard for collection of solid and liquid waste. The water soaks into the soil and the pit is emptied/serviced once it is full. The septic tank is constructed at the back of the house. During flood and rainy season the water covers thebore-well site, waste pit and the tank. Some plastic waste management is done through collecting items like plastic bottles from the households for resale/recycling by outside agencies. Given this situation and arrangement there are issues pertaining to water contamination and health. There is need for focused research on monitoring water quality along with adoption of best practices on grey water and solid waste disposal.There are opportunities to learn from Meghalaya, India, about grey water disposal mechanisms that the Meghalaya River Basin Authority is working on with the communities.



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This is a good article
Posted by :
Posted on : 29-Apr-2017 06:31:22 AM

Needs a lot of corrections and citations
Posted by : SDATTA
Posted on : 10-May-2017 12:43:06 AM