Buddhits monks travel to the remote and highly threatened Areng Valley to bless trees and empower the local indigenous communities ahead of the upcoming arrival of the Chinese dam builders. - The New York Times - July 2014,
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Few have visited the remote and pristine Areng valley in the Cardamoms, the latest target in the government's push to turn Koh Kong into the "battery province", until now. As the race to stop a hydropower dam slated for construction in the valley accelerates, a group of monks have joined the front line to try and save this natural treasure.
The Phnom Penh Post - November 2013
SAVING THE ARENG VALLEY
This is a video of a ceremony which happens only once every three years to honor the forest spirits and to seek their protection. Land and water is the root of the natural and cultural identity of the indigenous inhabitants of Areng, the 'Chong'. - Voice of America
Mother Nature Cambodia's (MNC) campaign to save the Areng Valley from being destroyed by a senseless hydro dam kicked off in 2012. Little known beyond the province of Koh Kong when we first got started, it has now entered the hearts and minds of millions of Cambodians. Not just that, the successes achieved by our innovative, fearless, and passionate campaign continues to inspire Cambodian embattled communities and environmental youth from across the country.
The majestic valley, surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of hectares of jungle-clad mountains of the Central and Southern Cardamoms National Parks, shelters an awesome array of fauna and flora, with over 30 species of wildlife classified as rare and / or critically endangered. It is home to critically endangered and locally revered Siamese crocodiles, the dragon fish, one of South East Asia's most important populations of wild elephants, and many other amazing creatures. It is also home to close to 2,000 members of one of Cambodia’s oldest ethnic groups, the Chong people. These resilient people, who, according to local tradition arrived in the Areng Valley several centuries ago escaping from a Siamese invasion of the old Cambodian capital of Longvek, have become the campaign’s most influential group. Yes, Mother Nature Cambodia and other activists groups have been incredibly successful at publicizing the campaign to a massive audience, but truth is the fight to stop the dam would have been lost had it not been for the tenacity, bravery and cohesion of the local population in opposing this senseless project.
Some people have accused us of being 'too radical' in our approach due to our direct action campaign methods and the risks we took in forcing the government and the Chinese energy giant back off from the project. Truth is though that the standard approaches by non-government organizations, those being mainly office-based approaches such as workshops, meetings, endless email chains, etc, would have not stopped the dam, as proven time and again in other large scale development projects seen in Cambodia in which that has been the main approach by those trying to fight it. Others have accused us of being anti-development, arguing that as Cambodia lacks 'cheap and reliable' energy, the dam is sorely needed despite its impacts. But the proposed dam would have made no sense from an economic point of view (it was already rejected twice by other Chinese investors due to its low return on investment) and would have caused massive social and environmental damage. It was, as we have been saying all along, a blatant excuse for corrupt members of the Cambodian government to make millions in kickback payments, timber laundering during the clearing of the dam's reservoir, and other corrupt practices.
Since February 2015, the day after the founder and director of MNC was exiled out of Cambodia on direct orders from the Prime Minister, the highest echelons of the Cambodian government have started siding with us and have switched their argument from saying that the dam was needed to saying it will not be built in the foreseeable future, claiming it would cause massive environmental impacts and inhibit 'revenue through eco-tourism in the billions'.
While the dam seems to be more of a distant threat than what it was one year ago, other issues are still there and the safety of the valley’s inhabitants and its unique ecology is by no means guaranteed. As an example, Ven Vorn (pictured on the left), the leader of the Areng indigenous communities, was sent to jail on the 7th of October 2015 on fabricated charges due to this strong activism against the dam. Hence the need for Mother Nature, the local communities, and all other relevant groups to be on the alert and do whatever it takes to tackle the very source of the problem: weak civil society in the valley, local government not being held accountable, land tenure issues (local population lack land titles), and insufficient development alternatives in the area, (i.e., community-based eco tourism).
In the next 2 years, we aim to:
- Reinforce grassroots movements (such as existing youth groups) of the Areng Valley so they can fence off future threats to their existence by themselves;
- Effectively monitor the implementation of the government's latest decision to pave the only access to the valley (always a cause for major concern in Cambodia, as it tends to benefit logging / poaching, land grabs, etc). We shall alkso continue keeping an eye on the growing number of visitors the Areng Valley so that the negative impacts on the local community and fragile ecosystems are minimized and ensuring that the local population benefits from this;
- Obtain communal land titles for the local population of the Areng Valley so that looming threats (communities being thrown out of their ancestral lands, for instance) can be minimized;
- Turn the whole valley and surrounding Cardamom Mountains National Parks into a hub not just for quality tourism but also scientists and other nature enthusiasts.
If you have any questions concerning the Areng Valley, the campaign to stop the proposed hydroelectric dam, or any other doubts, feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
The relationship between nature and the 'Chong' people of Areng is as strong as ever. The valley is one of the last places in Cambodia where one can still this relationship, the rest of the country's indigenous communities having already been uprooted due to unchecked, senseless 'development'.