REGIME CHANGES WITH THE CLIMATE
Emerging problems naturally force us to develop new solutions - climate change is doing just that: it is rapidly revealing new opportunities, new technologies, attitudinal changes, new policies … The range of approaches is wider than most could expect because climate change is a cross cutting issue. It affects all of the other sectors of development. Yet at the same time, decades of development efforts could be set back if climate change is not addressed rapidly. This explains why today, the issue is on the top of the list of all development partners.
Ten years ago in Cambodia, climate change was hardly on the radar of any development agency and few resources were being mobilized for that cause. At that time in Cambodia, the efforts were mostly focused on responding to social protection emergencies such as maternal health and HIV/AIDS. It was also a time start reforming the governance framework. The central government decided to take on the challenge of a national reform for de-concentration and decentralization. As we know such reforms take decades to achieve – even when there is a strong enabling environment. So ten years later, how far are we in these reforms and what’s the link with climate change?
Back then, the term decentralization (‘Vimicheka’) was not used in Khmer language. It was introduced through media campaigns in 2003. Today, you can ask a farmer and he can explain these words to you – he can even tell you about his commune council… the mindset is there. Semantically, there is now another term that is just now being ‘clarified’: climate change. In Khmer language, there is only one word for both climate and weather…So if you ask a farmer about climate changes, he will tell you that yesterday it rained and today it did not rain…the mindset is not entirely there but at least changes are in the air.
For some, like Ngan Chamroeun, Executive Deputy Head of the National Secretariat for De-concentration and Decentralisation, climate change has been an opportunity to address fundamental shifts in government functions. Climate can really bring change at a local level – and not just in the way of disasters. With projects like the LGCC of UNCDF, farming communities have leapfrogged into a new way of looking at how their government can work for them. Their expectations have changed. Their level of participation is changing as well. And definitely, the way that local communities are addressing climate change has taken a new turn.
In some areas, all these changes can be quite extreme. In Cambodia’s North West provinces in particular, the reform is all the more poignant, given the difference in the political regime. Mr Bong Soeun has been in the Sampoev Loun region since 1975. He has gone through decades of war. He was a Khmer Rouge. Not just any Khmer Rouge – he was in charge of information management. His eyes have seen a lot of hardships and suffering. In 1997, the Khmer Rouge reconciled with the government. Mr Bong saw the political change coming – everyone in the area was begging for peace. But one change he did not see coming is the change in the climate.
After going through years of war and civil strife, Mr Bong Soeun is not the kind of person that is easily impressed. Like many others, he even risked his life to find a piece of land to farm. He lost a leg in the process, due to the mines littered everywhere in this front line zone. But even the loss of his leg did not dent his confidence. Yet when he speaks about the climate, he cannot hide his deception. There is helplessness and despair in the voice of this strong man.
A particularity of this area is the extremely fast change in land use. The entire area used to be a dense jungle. In the years of war, the timber and gems trade were the main source of income for the Khmer Rouge regime. After reconciliation of the Khmer Rouge with the Royal Government of Cambodia in late 1996, the people in the area could suddenly join the market economy. Rapidly, private companies arrived and acquired large land concessions. Then the government provided some of the remaining land to soldiers in a bid to rehabilitate them in the area. Some of the remaining forests that had been protected during the years of war were handed over to people who cleared them to get farming land.
Today, because of these successive pressures, the land is barren, even to the top of the mountains. While everyone has benefited from new space to farm the land, the villagers also know that cutting the trees has not helped the environment: they say there is more heat than before. Climate change is adding pressure to this situation. The irregular seasons make it harder to manage crops.
The main crops grown here are cassava and corn, mostly sold to supply animal feed in Thailand. This year, again, the harvest has been difficult because of the rains. Mr Bong says that many farmers will lose everything after this season. He wonders what will happen to them. This is due to rains that fell irregularly, bringing down the quality of the corn harvested. Many farmers took loans after the harvest of the previous year. There is only one market for the local farmers: Thailand. So they have little power of negotiation. The market prices are lower than last year and will not compensate the investments made by poor farmers.
Today Mr Bong Soeun is in charge of the District administration in Sampoev Loun. He works with the LoCAL LGCC project, an innovative approach piloted in only two countries in the world, Cambodia ad Bhutan. The LoCAL project has just started its second phase, expanding from Takeo province to the North of Cambodia – in the Battambang province. This is how Mr Bong Soeun got involved in climate-proofing of local development actions, using the existing national financial systems, with the support of UNCDF. The LoCAL project comes in at the right time and responds to the immediate needs of the villagers in the area.
In July 2013, local provincial and district officials were trained in VRA (Vulnerability Reduction Assessment). They then acted at local level, to conduct VRA in random communes. The results were taken on board, reviewed and presented at a participative workshop. The results were then verified against findings in communes that had not been screened. With all this information in hand and the local actors in place, a local climate change strategic plan is now in place, to guide the use of funds allocated to the project in this area.
The vulnerability assessments they have made for the first time point to key targets: women, children, old and disabled people. It also underlines the emerging challenges of climate and crops management for farmers. But to respond to these issues, the District governor presiding the prioritization workshop concedes: ‘We lack human resources, knowledge and finances to respond to the situation.’
In Cambodia’s North West, five districts are part of the Performance Based Climate Resilience Grant scheme. In each district, up to 6 communes are represented. During the prioritization workshop, the village chiefs raised questions on the level of finances available. In response, they are told that there are many criteria to fulfill. There are a set of minimum conditions in the system put in place by UNCDF. For example, all projects must be already integrated in the commune investment plans - projects must address the most vulnerable and provide benefits to the most vulnerable – It also considers the quantity of beneficiaries and finally, the projects must address the climate change district strategy. ‘We will support 100% of the climate investments but we will only fund up to 35% of the total commune fund’ says Chanthan the NCDD Secretariat representative – and national counter-part of the UNCDF project - after a long review of the commune strategies proposed. One by one, all the commune chiefs raise their voice in approval of the system. Then they vote for the most urgent projects, together. Such democratic processes are also fairly new in this region. It is something that the local leaders, most of them ex-Khmer Rouge have come to appreciate. Mrs Pich Keoun on of the commune leaders present, says that she found the process very good for women – ‘during the vulnerability assessment, many women at village level had the opportunity to bring their concerns forward. Climate change affects a lot of women so I think this process has been very good for us’
At the end of the workshop, only three projects were eligible based on these criteria for a total amount of 20000 USD of top-up funds. Because the commune plans were mostly already made before the project started, many communes will only be able to benefit from the scheme next year. But this year already, all of the commune climate change strategies have been developed - setting the way for more secure funding arrangements next year. Of course, some of the commune leaders were disappointed but they hope they are already gearing up for next year.