BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA
Several key reports on the current situation regarding chemicals management in Cambodia were launched on February 18 to identify key priorities on how to mainstream the findings into development plans of key sectors that predominantly use chemicals.
The launching ceremony of the Report on Sound Management of Chemicals (SMC) in Cambodia was organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Environment under the presidency of His Excellency Khieu Muth, Secretary of State of Ministry of Environment, and other key and line ministries in Phnom Penh.
The Secretary of State said that it marked the first time Cambodia has compiled and produced the several key reports on the chemicals management in Cambodia.
He added that the reports are produced as part of the Sound Management of Chemicals project supported by UNDP in Cambodia. The purpose of the reports is to inform policy makers and the public on the situation of chemicals in the country and also identify key priorities on how to mainstream the findings into the development plans of key sectors that predominantly use chemicals such as agriculture, health and industry.
“The Ministry of Environment is very proud of the hard work, achievements and the report on the Sound Management of Chemicals, which were produced by UNDP. I strongly believe that these reports will become a document-basis or reference documents for the government as well as researchers, scholars and other policy makers in the future. I also hope that these key reports will be published nationwide for all levels of ministries, institutions and people in Cambodia,” he said during his opening remarks at the launching ceremony.
Seeta Giri, Country Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said that the reports that are the outputs of this project is crucial for UNDP’s Cambodia as they outline the key challenges in appropriately managing the use of chemicals and present recommendations on how to improve systems and raise awareness in order to improve chemical management practices.
The Country Director stated that chemicals played a part in almost all human activities and are a major contributor to national economies. However, when chemicals are not properly managed they can put human health, ecosystems, and national economies at risk. The impact related to public health and environmental issues arising from the use or misuse of chemicals can include increased health-care costs, reduced worker productivity, damage to fisheries and watersheds, reduced crop output, and other direct and indirect impact.
She continued that the unsound management of chemicals can affect sustainable human development, with the poorest members of the community, particularly women, children, and the elderly, most vulnerable to their negative effects. The urban and the rural poor routinely face unacceptable high risks of exposure to chemicals because of their occupations, living conditions or lack of knowledge about proper handling. At the same time, ecosystems that provide essential resources for the survival of the rural poor are threatened by chemical pollution and environmental degradation, she added.
To improve the way chemicals are used and managed in Cambodia, national priorities and planning related to this will need to be much more strongly linked with Cambodia’s MDG-based development priorities and planning processes, she said, adding that as highlighted in the national situation report, one of the prior policy actions for SMC is to develop a cross-sectoral enabling legislation on sound management of chemicals. Such legislation would promote coordination among the responsible ministries for sound management of the chemicals.
“In the future, although UNDP will not be directly involved in the Environmental Health area, we will help mobilize support from sister UN agencies such as UNEP and UNIDO. As a response to the first priority action which is the development of the legislation for sound management of chemicals, UNEP, funded by the Swedish Chemicals Agency, will be supporting the Ministry of Environment in this area,” she said.
The reports discuss challenges posed by the proliferation and use of chemicals to the overall development in Cambodia. Challenges include a widespread lack of regulatory frameworks, enforcement capacity, awareness among farmers about health hazards caused by improper use of chemicals in farming, and lack of occupational safety and health regulations for workers in handling chemical substances in their workplace. Not responding to these challenges can lead to high costs to be borne by the society in the future.
Along with the findings there are also recommendations for Cambodia to strengthen its institutional capacity and legislative framework to better manage proliferation and use of chemicals in order to protect the health of its citizens, the ecosystem, and advance its potentials of economic development. ///