Ancient Angkor Empire’s Fall Affects from Climate Change


By Chhorng Long Heng

“The climate change is one of the core things which weakened the civilization of the ancient Angkor Empire,” H.E. Khieu Kanharith, information minister and government spokesman said during the workshop reporting on reducing disasters and risks and mitigation from climate change late last week.

“According to a study from the history of the Angkor Empire, affects from the long drought at that time, as the country needed water for supplying the rice crops as the main product for the sustenance of the Angkor city, is also the biggest issue if comparing to other countries on the earth at that time,” the Minister added. 
“Some said its fall occurred from religious conflicts and Thai attacks, but drought is a new discovery,” he added.
“The impact from climate change is a big issue and we could not assess it, therefore, we need to prepare and contribute to this work.”
“A recent study suggests that two severe droughts, punctuated by bouts of heavy monsoon rain, may have weakened the Angkor Empire by shrinking water supplies for drinking and agriculture, and by damaging the Empire’s vast irrigation system, which was central to its economy. The kingdom is thought to have collapsed in 1431 after raids from Siam,” the report from the UNDP said.  UNDP quoted from a study by Buckley and Cook in 2010.
“The empire was already facing numerous social, political and cultural problems. These were exacerbated by a drought thought to have lasted 30 years, putting pressure on the complex system of irrigation reservoirs, canals and embankments,” it added.   It is thought that this led to crop failures and the spread of infectious diseases, undermining the empire’s ability to feed its large population.
“The problem of droughts was compounded by intense rainy seasons during some years. Usually heavy rains after periods of drought caused the siltation of the irrigation infrastructure, further undermining the vitality of the water management on which Angkor had depended.”   
The report said: “The affects of changes in climate are not new for Cambodia. Indeed, recent historical analysts suggest that the collapse of the mighty Angkor Empire that stretched across much of mainland Southeast Asia was partly attributable to shifts in climate patterns. The kinds of climate shifts that influenced Cambodia during the Angkor period were part of natural climatic cycles and variation.”
However, the climate change that the country now faces is of a very different order.
It added: “The scientific evidence demonstrates that what we now know as climate change is the result of man-made actions related to the industrialization, deforestation and land use patterns which have resulted in excessive emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the earth’s atmosphere. Moreover, the climate change that what we are witnessing is of a pace and magnitude that the world has never before experienced, and the changes are beginning to appear irreversible.
“Yet for Cambodia, many aspects remain remarkably similar to the Angkor period: the central importance of water resource management for national development, and the dependence of the population on agriculture, fisheries and natural resources,” according to the report from UNDP.
Budget Project for climate change
Climate change projects currently being implemented in Cambodia include:  NAPA follow up project on climate – resilience water management, and agriculture practice in rural Cambodia, which is funded by GEF, UNDP and the government with a budget of US$ 3.09 million.
Pilot project for climate change resilience is funded by WB and ADB with a total budget of US$ 105 million of which US $50 million comes from grants and US$ 55 million in soft loans. CCCA (Cambodian Climate Change Alliance) is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment and funded by EU, UNDP SIDA, and Danida for an approximate amount of US$ 9 million.
National REDD roadmap is being funded by WB, UNDP, FAO, and UNEP with over US$ 6 million committed and it is expected to reach more than US$ 10 million. Vulnerability assessment and adaptation programs for climate change within the coastal zone of Cambodia, which is considered necessary for livelihood improvements and the ecosystem, is being funded by UNEP for US$ 1.6 million.  Helping address rural vulnerability and ecosystem stability (HARVEST) is being funded by USIAD, and will support natural resources management, forestry and climate change from 2011-2015.  Cambodia and other LDCs have argued that at least 70 per cent of future climate change fund allocation should be directed to LDCs for building adaptive capacity and facilitating adaptation, including the current commitment of US$ 30 billion through 2012, and the future commitment of US $100 billion per year.
According to the latest technical assessment by the Ministry of Environment, in 2010, Cambodia’s temperature has risen steadily over the past 50 years. The country can expect further increases in temperature during the course of this century, with an acceleration expected after 2030. As the number of studies covering Cambodia indicate greatly varying degrees, depending on the model used, and the level of anticipated Green House Gas (GHG) emission factors in as well.
Assessments by two general circulation models indicate that, under the high emissions scenario, the rate of temperature will be at least 2 Celsius and possibly as high as 2.5 Celsius, by the end of the century.  Other studies suggest temperature will increase from 0.7 Celsius to 2.7 Celsius by the 2060s.   It clearly demonstrates that temperature in the country has risen steadily over the last 50 years and that “rapid increase in temperature is expected to occur after 2030,” according to a report from the Ministry of Environment.  Rainfall patterns are also shifting. At the same time, predicted changes for the future also need to be considered alongside more recent changes.
Floods and Disasters
Although floods are usually disastrous for humans, they may have beneficial effects too, including improving soil moisture and fertility for agriculture, ground and surface water recharging and ecological benefits for fisheries, according to a report from UNDP.  Nonetheless, one of the worst floods in Cambodia’s recent history occurred in 2000. The national committee for disaster management estimated that 750,618 families, representing 3,448, 624 people who were affected. Among these, 85,000 families (387,000 people) were temporarily evacuated from their homes and villages with 347 deaths (80 per cent of which were children). “Damage to infrastructure alone, not including lost production and other secondary impact costs was estimated at US$ 150 million.”
“Socioeconomic development and natural resources management have directly affected human vulnerabilities to flooding. Unplanned patterns of human settlement and land use have resulted in dramatic increases in the population living in the Mekong floodplains.”
 “The implication of the changing disaster risk profile for Cambodia are found not only at the level of impact on affected people, but more broadly, at the level of national and local economic costs. Between 1987 and 2007 alone, the total cost of floods has been estimated at US$ 327.1 million, with US$ 138 million in damages caused by drought.” It added:  “As technologies improve and international finance mechanisms are put in place, countries such as Cambodia may be better placed to adopt low carbon technologies at relatively early stages of their national economic development.”
Source: The Southeast Asia Weekly, September 11-17, 2011, Vol. Issue 37, Page 1
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