Beside supporting PeopleStories, our volunteer / writer Bok Hoon is passionate about environmental matters. As she was cleaning up a beach on the World Ocean Day in Singapore, she said to herself, “It seems a futile attempt to keep going and keep picking up the trash contributed by people from the neighbouring countries. The currents bring the trash to us in Singapore on a regular basis. The world is a village, ‘it’s not in my backyard’ mentality cannot solve the problem.”
Bok Hoon’s thought pushed us to think a bit deeper, “How can people be made aware of the environmental effects of their actions?” The answer is simple, “It all starts with education!”.
Overfishing in Tonle Sap
Tonle Sap’s water drains from Tonle Sap into Mekong and vice versa as a result of an annual phenomenon. It is home to hundreds of species of fish that provide Cambodia with up to 60% of its protein. People had to fish for a living and overfishing is inevitable due to the exponential increase in population. Cambodia’s population has almost quadrupled from 4.4 million in 1950 to 16.9 million in 2020.
To make matter worse, Covid-19 has almost killed the tourism industry in Siem Reap Province and even the price of produce. People used to be able to migrate to Thailand to work but not now. Hence, more people are turning to fishing for a living.
Apparently, there is no waste collection in the rural villages. Hence, the waste would most likely end up in the lake or get burned. The floating villages and dense population of people living around the lake generate a huge amount of waste, causing water pollution.
When speaking with teacher Socheat who also lives in the floating village, she shared, “The biggest environmental problem in Tonle Sap is defecation without toilets!”. Many houses in the village do not have sewage or piping system to collect their human waste.
Most Cambodia rural families practise subsistence farming, where family members awake before dawn, work is done before noon to avoid the heat. 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of rice paddy is used to provide for a family of 5. The use of chemicals and pesticides for agriculture has also led to water pollution that eventually runs to Tonle Sap.
So, what can we do to protect our environment? Perhaps we can reflect on the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” As individuals, we can all practise minimalist living, buying only what we need. For example, there are people who keep buying clothes, shoes and bags. But do they really use all that they buy? Very often, things end up being ‘white elephants’ and eventually contribute to the trash level.
As much as we love food, making a conscious effort to eat less meat and more fruits, vegetables and grains can help save our planet. It is healthier and produces less carbon footprints. A win-win situation for all! How about practising ‘Refuse’?- Refuse to buy things that we do not need, refuse to accept free gifts or any form of hand me downs that we will not be using. When we do this sufficiently, we do not even need to go to ‘reduce’, ‘recycle’ and ‘reuse’. Choose to ‘refuse’ as the top priority of our sustainability efforts.
What is something you will start doing to play a part to save our planet?
PeopleStories is embarking on a ‘Zero Waste’ Competition as a start. You can also be part of the PeopleStories’ efforts to save our planet through educating the children.
Written by: Bok Hoon ONG
To break the cycle of poverty by advancing education for underprivileged students, families and communities in need.