A recent forum highlighted a growing concern of Cambodian youth about Cambodia’s largest lowland evergreen forest, Prey Lang, and the impacts of deforestation caused by illegal logging.
University students took the controversial issues surrounding Prey Lang to the debating table on January 31 at an event organized by young people who dream of protecting Prey Lang from further deforestation. Around 300 youths took part in the event, to gain more knowledge about the forest and its problems.
Organizer of the Prey Lang Forum Thun Sophorn believes the event helped youths to become more informed about the forest and will now help raise support to protect it.
“We want the debaters to discuss the decentralization of Prey Lang, meaning giving rights and responsibilities to the Prey Lang community,” said Ms. Sophorn.
“We want our audiences to learn more about Prey Lang since many youths still lack general knowledge on Prey Lang. We want youths to listen to comments and concerns of those who know about this issue and preserving the Prey Lang forest,” she added.
Forest advocate Ms. Sophorn was once new to the Prey Lang issues as well, but she heard about the forest on radio and began to research more about it. After visiting the forest herself, she decided that she wanted to protect it and make her concerns known to others.
“The debate by youths on Prey Lang has a lot of impact because each political party is now paying more attention to the youths,” said independent analyst Kem Ley, who was invited as a guest speaker at the event. “They start to respect youths, give more value to youths, and improve the youth roles. If their voices are stronger, they have more chances to influence decision making.”
The debaters were divided into four groups, debating on two different topics. Two groups emerged victorious from the debate and will now have a chance to gain first-hand experience by visiting Prey Lang.
Seng Kanharith and Rim Phatbophaphoung formed one of the winning teams from the debate. The two had researched the issues extensively for about two weeks prior to the debate.
“The topic debated today is very important for the public to understand the environmental issues, and protecting the environment – especially Prey Lang,” said Ms. Phatbophaphoung, a student from Khemrak University. “The environment is an important source of shelter for animals and humans, as well as a source of living for the community.”
Prey Lang is considered to be one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forests, covering over 3,600 square kilometers of land. The forest stretches over four provinces: Preah Vihear, Kratie, Kampong Thom, and Steung Treng and is now under threat from major illegal logging activities.