Cambodia has one of the worst deforestation rates in the world. Since 1970, Cambodia's primary rainforest cover went from over 70 percent in 1970 to 3.1 percent today. Worse, Cambodia's deforestation has been accelerating over the past decade, largely a product of industrial plantation expansion, logging, and conversion for agriculture.
According to research led by Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, just over 40 percent of Cambodia is densely forested. The country's deforestation of roughly one percent a year between 2000 and 2012 gives it the fourth highest deforestation rate among major forest countries.
Cambodia is home to more than 521 species of birds, 127 mammals, and 116 reptiles.
|Total forest area||Dense forest area||Forest gain||Forest loss||Total land area|
|>10% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||>50% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||(ha)|
|Krong Preah Sihanouk||89728||64.4%||79709||57.2%||68525||76.4%||15906||17.7%||139337|
Historical drivers of deforestation
The civil war —which ran from the 1970s to the mid 1990s—is responsible for setting the stage for illegal logging. During the conflict, each warring faction financed fighting through timber sales. According to the Trade and Environment Database (TED), the Cambodian government exported mostly to Japan and Vietnam, while the three guerrilla groups (including the Khmer Rouge) sent logs to Thailand. Thai timber companies—often with the involvement of military officials— were found to be actively engaged in logging of forests along the Cambodian border.
During the 1990s, illegal logging was so widespread in Cambodia that the IMF canceled a $120 million loan and the World Bank suspended direct aid to the government until the corruption in the forestry sector was resolved. In response, the government moved to crack down on logging operations while issuing bans on unprocessed log exports and imports of logging equipment. The actions appear to have had little effect: between 2000 and 2005, Cambodia lost nearly 30 percent of its primary forest cover.
Deforestation in Cambodia also results from subsistence activities, notably the collection of fuelwood and clearing for agriculture. The hunting of wildlife as bushmeat is widespread in the country, while mining for gold, bauxite, and iron is increasingly a threat to Cambodia's forests as well. The government has recently introduced stricter legislation to govern small miners, including environmental provisions.
While the Cambodian government has struggled to enforce environmental regulations in the face of corruption and illegal activities, it has shown interest in reducing deforestation and setting up protected areas. On paper, more than 20 percent of Cambodia is under some form of protection, including the spectacular ruins of Ankor, which cover over some 400 square kilometers and are one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. However, even this World Heritage site is threatened by unrestrained tourism, experienced rapid hotel development in the early to mid 2000s.
Charts showing forest data and deforestation in Cambodia
Chart: aggregate forest loss in Cambodia
Forest loss by province in Cambodia
Annual forest loss by province in Cambodia
Cambodia forest cover by province
Cambodia forest cover
Pictures of Cambodia
Recent articles | Cambodia news updates | XML
|Cambodia Forest Figures|
Total forest area: 10,447,000 ha
% of land area: 59.2%
Primary forest cover: 322,000 ha
% of land area: 1.8%
% total forest area: 3.1%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -218,800 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -2.0%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 74.7%
Total forest loss since 1990: -2,499,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-19.3%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -26800 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -5.9%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 45.2%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -334,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-84.1%
Social services: 0.9%
Multiple purpose: 3.9%
None or unknown: 37.8
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 10,447,000 ha
Primary: 122,000 ha
Modified natural: 10,266,000 ha
Production plantation: 59,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a
Plantations, 2005: 59,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.6%
Annual change rate (00-05): -2,600,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 1,904 M t
Below-ground biomass: 628 M t
Area annually affected by
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 862
Critically endangered: 10
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: n/a
Wood fuel: n/a
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: n/a
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): $21,586,000
Total Value: $21,586,000
More forest statistics for Cambodia
Suggested reading - Books
CIA-World Factbook Profile
World Resources Institute
Cause-Effect Essay: Deforestation
- Length: 1146 words (3.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
People have been deforesting the Earth for thousands of years, primarily to clear land for crops or livestock. Although tropical forests are largely confined to developing countries, they aren’t just meeting local or national needs; economic globalization means that the needs and wants of the global population are bearing down on them as well. Direct causes of deforestation are agricultural expansion, wood extraction (e.g., logging or wood harvest for domestic fuel or charcoal), and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization. Rarely is there a single direct cause for deforestation. Most often, multiple processes work simultaneously or sequentially to cause deforestation.
The single biggest direct cause of tropical deforestation is conversion to cropland and pasture, mostly for subsistence, which is growing crops or raising livestock to meet daily needs. The conversion to agricultural land usually results from multiple direct factors. For example, countries build roads into remote areas to improve overland transportation of goods. The road development itself causes a limited amount of deforestation. But roads also provide entry to previously inaccessible—and often unclaimed—land. Logging, both legal and illegal, often follows road expansion (and in some cases is the reason for the road expansion). When loggers have harvested an area’s valuable timber, they move on. The roads and the logged areas become a magnet for settlers—farmers and ranchers who slash and burn the remaining forest for cropland or cattle pasture, completing the deforestation chain that began with road building. In other cases, forests that have been degraded by logging become fire-prone and are eventually deforested by repeated accidental fires from adjacent farms or pastures.
Although subsistence activities have dominated agriculture-driven deforestation in the tropics to date, large-scale commercial activities are playing an increasingly significant role. In the Amazon, industrial-scale cattle ranching and soybean production for world markets are increasingly important causes of deforestation, and in Indonesia, the conversion of tropical forest to commercial palm tree plantations to produce bio-fuels for export is a major cause of deforestation on Borneo and Sumatra.
Although poverty is often cited as the underlying cause of tropical deforestation, analyses of multiple scientific studies indicate that that explanation is an oversimplification. Poverty does drive people to migrate to forest frontiers, where they engage in slash and burn forest clearing for subsistence. But rarely does one factor alone bear the sole responsibility for tropical deforestation.
State policies to encourage economic development, such as road and railway expansion projects, have caused significant, unintentional deforestation in the Amazon and Central America.
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Deforestation Significant Role Economic Globalization Multiple Livestock Roads Timber Magnet Bearing Developing Countries
Agricultural subsidies and tax breaks, as well as timber concessions, have encouraged forest clearing as well. Global economic factors such as a country’s foreign debt, expanding global markets for rainforest timber and pulpwood, or low domestic costs of land, labor, and fuel can encourage deforestation over more sustainable land use.
Access to technology may either enhance or diminish deforestation. The availability of technologies that allow “industrial-scale” agriculture can spur rapid forest clearing, while inefficient technology in the logging industry increases collateral damage in surrounding forests, making subsequent deforestation more likely. Underlying factors are rarely isolated; instead, multiple global and local factors exert synergistic influences on tropical deforestation in different geographic locations.
The local level is where deforestation has the most immediate effect. With forest loss, the local community loses the system that performed valuable but often underappreciated services like ensuring the regular flow of clean water and protecting the community from flood and drought. The forest acts as a sort of sponge, soaking up rainfall brought by tropical storms while anchoring soils and releasing water at regular intervals. This regulating feature of tropical rainforests can help moderate destructive flood and drought cycles that can occur when forests are cleared.
When forest cover is lost, runoff rapidly flows into streams, elevating river levels and subjecting downstream villages, cities, and agricultural fields to flooding, especially during the rainy season. During the dry season, such areas downstream of deforestation can be prone to months-long droughts which interrupt river navigation, wreak havoc on crops, and disrupt industrial operations.
Situated on steep slopes, montane and watershed forests are especially important in ensuring water flow and inhibiting erosion, yet during the 1980s, montane formations suffered the highest deforestation rate of tropical forests.
Additionally, the forest adds to local humidity through transpiration (the process by which plants release water through their leaves), and thus adds to local rainfall. For example, 50-80 percent of the moisture in the central and western Amazon remains in the ecosystem water cycle. In the water cycle, moisture is transpired and evaporated into the atmosphere, forming rain clouds before being precipitated as rain back onto the forest. When the forests are cut down, less moisture is evapotranspired into the atmosphere resulting in the formation of fewer rain clouds. Subsequently there is a decline in rainfall, subjecting the area to drought. If rains stop falling, within a few years the area can become arid with the strong tropical sun baking down on the scrub-land. Today Madagascar is largely a red, treeless desert from generations of severe deforestation. River flows decline and smaller amounts of quality water reach cities and agricultural lands. The declining rainfall in interior West African countries has in part been attributed to excessive clearing of the coastal rainforests. Similarly, new research in Australia suggests that if it were not for human influences—specifically widespread agricultural fires—the dry outback might be a wetter, more hospitable place than it is today. The effect of vegetation change from forests that favor rainfall to grassland and bush can impact precipitation patterns. Colombia, once second in the world with freshwater reserves, has fallen to 24th due to its extensive deforestation over the past 30 years. Excessive deforestation around the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, combined with the dry conditions created by el Niño, triggered strict water rationing in 1998, and for the first time the city had to import water.
There is serious concern that widespread deforestation could lead to a significant decline in rainfall and trigger a positive-feedback process of increasing dessication for neighboring forest cover; reducing its moisture stocks and its vegetation would then further the dessication effect for the region. Eventually the effect could extend outside the region, affecting important agricultural zones and other watersheds. At the 1998 global climate treaty conference in Buenos Aires, Britain, citing a disturbing study at the Institute of Ecology in Edinburgh, suggested the Amazon rainforest could be lost in 50 years due to shifts in rainfall patterns induced by global warming and land conversion.
The newly dessicated forest becomes prone to devastating fires. Such fires materialized in 2007 and 2008 in conjunction with the dry conditions created by el Niño. Millions of acres burned as fires swept through Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Florida, and other places. The Woods Hole Research Center warned that more than 400,000 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazonia were highly vulnerable to fire in 2010.