BY Rady MEY & Nayheak KHUN
Areng valley is a very beautiful place located in Koh Kong province in the southwest Cambodia. Home to approximately 1,300 indigenous people, rich in biodiversity, inhabited by 31 endangered rare (endangered) wildlife species such as Dragon fish and one of the last places left in Cambodia, it is a place where indigenous people are still living in harmony with their surrounding environment in this valley.
But this place is facing an uncertain future like this article on the Asia Life Magazine mentioned.
Specifically, this area boasts very last spirit and burial forests, and hosts the world’s second-largest population of wild Siamese crocodiles, asian elephants, and friendly Chong ethnic group. There are around 1500 people living in 3 communes which are Chum Nap, Thmor Donkeo, and Pon Leay inside Areng valley.
This valley is becoming well-known from day to day since there has been a conflict between Sinohydro Company and people in this area about the proposed hydro-electric dam in the last two years. Those villagers would be relocated from their homes and farmlands to the unknown nearby area without any proper restorations if the dam were to be constructed now.
Not only local people in that area feel concerned with the dam construction, but also most people in Cambodia feel afraid to lose this amazing natural heritage of this country. There were two companies which used to do a research study about feasibility of the hydropower in Chhay Areng River, yet they proved that it would not be profitable, not to mention the damages it would do to the area.
Due to this very sensitive issue, Peace Institute of Cambodia led Cambodia’s peace fellows in the project called “Cities of Peace” to Areng valley to see the real situation and ask for more details from villagers living there about their concern and issues. According to one male villager who is a Chong indigenous person, this dam might flood these 2 communes in Areng valley and it definitely destroys rare species, wild animal habitats, thousands of hectares of rainforest, beautiful waterfalls, fertile land, and culture of Chong people.
He continued to say, “The authorities took us for granted with our welfare because it is only we who have tried to halt the dam construction while they help the Chinese company against us. We will never leave our ancestor’s land because we have enough foods to eat, water to drink, and enough fertile land to do, thus we will never let them (dam-constructing company) enter our area to build the dam.” He lastly asked this question, “We will have electricity, yet we will have no foods. Thus how can we survive?”
However, this proposed dam construction has to be postponed at least until 2018 due to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech in February 25, 2015, but people in that area still live in hardship in terms of low healthcare, difficult accessibility (road) and low education because the government takes no notice to those people.
Sadly, there is no hospital among these three communes, difficult road condition, and two school buildings with only secondary and primary schools. That makes people face hardship and less development in their community.
Even though people in Areng valley have struggled with their life before and after the cancellation of dam construction, they still feel hopeful as more and more local tourists have paid visits to their hometown and the nature view from this valley. Meanwhile, many Chong indigenous people tend to provide services including motor-taxi for the communities around the area and other local tourists.
View from Marech Konkep Mountain
Ecotourism can really help this community to thrive economically and avoid a hydropower construction because people will go there more and more to see the last spiritual forest of Cambodia and share the view with the world so the people living there will be able to generate a decent income from those local visitors.
Likewise, when people are getting to know about the beauty and value of Areng valley, they will conserve it as a national or global heritage. Dismissing the dam construction and turning Areng into ecotourism place is the best choice to help Chong indigenous community, preserve our forest and rare wild animals, and save our environment to insure the next generation’s well-being and harmony.
After having a trip with Cambodia peace fellow to Areng organizing by Peace Institute of Cambodia (PIC), we would like to suggest to all Cambodians to visit there once in life to see our beautiful paradise on earth and also help protect our forest from illegal logging and destroying our very last forest as well as turn that area to a real ecotourism.
How much time do we have left to see the ocean of trees, the amazing waterfalls, and various types of rare species, and Cardamom Mountains with lush greenery in Cambodia?
Photo on the cover by Conor Wall, Asia Life Magazine
About Nayheak Khun
Nayheak graduated from the Department of Media and Communication of Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is currently working as a volunteer at the Communication and Information Focal Point Unite (UNESCO). Her interest is communication and public relations, researching, designing. She also likes writing stories for newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites etc. Contact her: [email protected]