Survey points to need to fill knowledge gap among Cambodians about climate change

26 May 2011

A vast majority of Cambodians know that the changing weather is affecting their livelihood but they do not quite understand why and how it is happening. There remains a huge information and knowledge gap among them, especially women, and thus require a more robust awareness-raising to help the Cambodian people ward off adverse impacts of climate change in the future, according to a recently released study.

The study titled "Understanding Public Perceptions of Climate Change in Cambodia" was released by the Ministry of Environment on May 10. It marked a watershed in efforts to address this global issue currently threatening for Cambodia, where more than two-thirds of its 13.4 million people rely on subsistence farming to survive.

"This Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) survey report is another major step that enables us to better understand public perceptions and mainstream climate change in the country's development efforts," H.E. Dr. Mok Mareth, Senior Minister and Minister of Environment, said during the launch of the report.

"The dissemination of timely, relevant information will be central to enabling us and our partners to respond to climate change, the world's greatest development issue of the century," he said.

Climate change is expected to have serious environmental, economic, and social consequences on Cambodia where financial resources and technology to adapt are very limited. The effects of the changing weather are variable, including lower crop yields, water shortages, and an increase in pests and diseases on crops.

To gauge people's understanding of climate change, the Ministry of Environment, with support from Danida, Oxfam and UNDP, commissioned the BBC World Service Trust to conduct the KAP study in 2010. The survey used a nationally representative sample of 2,401 respondents and additional interviews with 101 key informants including journalists, staff of non-governmental organizations and government officials. The aim is to provide comprehensive information for NGOs, development partners, public and private sectors in developing their response programmes to help Cambodians mitigate impacts of and adapt to climate changes.

According to the study, the respondents generally think extreme weather events such as flood and drought are more frequent and intense. Nine in 10 of them say they experienced at least one extreme weather event in the year before they were interviewed for the survey. Almost all of them recognize at least one of the terms "climate change" and "global warming." But more than half of them say they are unable to respond to weather changes due to lack of information. Even among those who did receive such information, almost three-quarters, or 72 percent, of them only received such information during or after an extreme weather event but not before.

"More women than men, and more rural than urban people, say they lack the information they need to respond to the changing weather. The same is true of people with lower levels of education and those living in poverty," the report said.

The understanding about the driving forces behind climate change among the respondents is also low. Some 67 percent of them say deforestation within Cambodia is primarily to blame for the changing weather patterns. Just 18 percent mention industrial pollution and only 11 percent say other human activities, such as driving cars and other vehicles which release green house gases into the atmosphere, are other contributing factors.

In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana hit Cambodia hard, causing damage at the estimated value of US$132 million. About US$56 million was damage in the agricultural sector alone.

Elena Tischenko, Country Director of UNDP in Cambodia, commenting on the KAP study, said impacts of climate change have the potential to worsen existing inequalities. This, she said, will pose new challenges for Cambodia in trying to realize its Millennium Development Goals and aspirations to become a middle-income country in the next decade.

She said the findings of the study represent an important road map for government's institutions, development partners and all concerned to put local communities at the centre when designing actions to tackle climate change in Cambodia.

"As we all know poor people, women-headed households, children and indigenous people stand to lose the most from the threat of climate change. But by working together and equipping the public with necessary information about the changing weather, we can help make a difference and, most importantly, prevent them from falling deeper into poverty trap," Ms. Tischenko said.

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Mr. Munthit Ker