10 Major Environmental Issues in Cambodia

Situated in Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong Subregion, Cambodia is renowned for its abundant biodiversity and breathtaking natural beauty.

Significant environmental issues, however, pose a threat to Cambodia’s priceless ecosystems and the variety of plants, animals, and people that depend on them.

In this section, we shall examine these environmental problems in Cambodia and their effects on the environment, animals, and public health.

The pollution of the planet is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention, particularly in Cambodia where the situation is only growing worse.

Due to the difficulties the nation had in attempting to lessen the effects of the environmental disaster, it is regarded as a high-priority problem in this nation.

Environmental difficulties in Cambodia can be broadly classified into two areas: pollution and poor sanitation in the country’s expanding cities, and improper use or management of the country’s natural resources.

10 Major Environmental Issues in Cambodia

  • Climate Change
  • Deforestation
  • Land Degradation
  • Water Resources and its Natural Hazards
  • Coastal and Water Pollution
  • Pollution from Chemical and Liquid Wastes
  • Urban Issues
  • Solid Waste Pollution
  • Plastic Pollution
  • Air Pollution

1. Climate Change

In Cambodia right now, the largest environmental problem is climate change.

Because of its location between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, as well as general world temperature increases and a spike in El Nino frequency, Cambodia will see a rise in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including floods and droughts.

It is challenging to get the fundamental essentials of life, such as crops, water, and other things, because of these opposing conditions.

It is not only the root cause of other environmental problems, but it also gets harder and harder to adjust to the changing climate as the dry seasons get drier and the wet ones get wetter.

Droughts and floods exacerbate daily stresses and make recovery even more difficult. They also hinder the growth and well-being of crops. It gets harder and harder to get water for necessities like irrigating people, animals, and crops as droughts linger longer.

Because they do not have access to enough freshwater, people in Cambodia rely on rainwater for daily needs including cooking, bathing, and drinking. On the other hand, the more protracted and profound floods ruin people’s lives as well as houses, cattle, and rice crops.

The losses get worse and recovering from them requires a lot more work. The loss of important resources, harm to human and animal life, and destruction of the land that they depend on are all consequences of climate change that Cambodians must deal with.

2. Deforestation

Due to illegal logging, increased agricultural production, and urbanization, Cambodia has been experiencing significant deforestation.

Due to clear-cutting for agricultural purposes as well as the harvesting of timber, Cambodia has the third-highest rate of deforestation worldwide. Deforestation upsets the delicate balance of tropical soils and destroys habitats.

Ecosystems have suffered greatly as a result, losing biodiversity, increasing carbon emissions, and seeing animals displaced as a result of the devastation of important habitats including wetlands, forests, and mangroves.

In the initial years of cultivation, the soil rapidly erodes and loses a significant portion of its fertility in the absence of trees to stabilize the soil and restore organic matter with leaf litter.

Indigenous populations are also affected by deforestation, which puts their way of life and cultural existence in jeopardy. About 100,000 hectares of natural forest were lost in Cambodia in 2022 alone, releasing 58.4 million metric tons of CO2.

Combating illicit logging, preserving forests, safeguarding biodiversity, upholding the rights and well-being of indigenous groups, and lessening the negative effects of climate change all require swift and urgent action.

3. Land Degradation

Land degradation is another significant environmental problem. It is the loss of the land’s potential for productivity as a result of soil degradation brought on by natural processes and human activities.

Natural disasters like floods and droughts devalue soil and loosen the topsoil, which destroys the soil’s quality and any agricultural value.

In addition to natural occurrences, human actions like logging and subpar farming can deplete soil nutrients and remove the topsoil, creating unfavorable terrain.

The lack of logging and agriculture policies in Cambodia means that soil nutrients are not being supplied or recycled, and erosional pressures are exposing the soil, making it unsuitable for ongoing and sustainable cultivation.

Not only do logging and deforestation cause land degradation, but they also raise carbon dioxide levels, which raise greenhouse gas concentrations and world temperatures.

By removing species from their native habitats and exposing them to predators and natural disasters, deforestation also contributes to a decline in biodiversity.

The loss of biodiversity and the deterioration of land due to human and natural influences are factors in Cambodia’s declining topsoil quality.

4. Water Resources and its Natural Hazards

In Cambodia, water resources and associated natural hazards constitute a major environmental problem. Due to its extreme poverty, Cambodia has very little access to water. While freshwater resources exist in Cambodia, there is a constant scarcity of water.

Rainfall and runoff are the primary sources of water, although the supply of water is highly unpredictable owing to climate change. The land is not favorable or suited for growing a lot of crops or raising livestock because of this uncertainty.

Additionally, the Mekong River’s upstream water operations and dam construction have a significant impact on agricultural production, fisheries, and floods. Despite extremely low levels of industrial pollution, naturally occurring arsenic still exists in groundwater sources, making the water unfit for human consumption.

The quantity of mining, offshore oil and gas development, shipping, and other industries that endanger marine and coastal ecosystems is also considerable.

Water is unpredictable, scarce, or harmful when it floods, which results in a decline in biodiversity.

Although the tropics are thought to contain the highest species variety, Cambodia’s biodiversity is negatively impacted by both abundant and insufficient water; floods kill cattle, droughts dehydrate all types of organisms, and inadequate dam construction alters aquatic ecosystems.

Numerous species suffer as a result of the erratic patterns of floods and ongoing water scarcity brought on by climate change and human activity.

5. Coastal and Water Pollution

In Cambodia, water pollution is a serious problem that affects both coastal and rural regions.

The contamination of water sources poses a hazard to aquatic life and negatively affects the livelihoods of residents. The main causes of this contamination include industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and poor sewage treatment.

Important coastal habitats, such as mangrove forests, are in danger from sediment flow brought on by deforestation, which carries dangerous fertilizers and pesticides.

Furthermore, unregulated shrimp farms cause the clearing of mangroves and the leakage of surplus nutrients, upsetting the sensitive ecosystem’s equilibrium and encouraging the spread of algae.

The sustainability and general well-being of Cambodia’s water bodies and coastal regions are seriously threatened by these causes taken together.

6. Pollution from Chemical and Liquid Wastes

Pollution from chemical and liquid wastes is another issue in Cambodia. The firms that employ chemicals in dyeing and washing, power plants, and other industries are the main contributors to pollution from liquid waste.

The most dangerous chemical groundwater contamination in Cambodia is arsenic, which has a widespread impact and can have serious long-term health effects on those who drink contaminated water.

It has been discovered that arsenic concentrations in Cambodia are as high as 3,000 parts per billion (ppb), which is significantly higher than the WHO drinking water quality threshold of 10 ppb.

According to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, air pollution was the main cause of 15,500 deaths in Cambodia in 2015 due to diseases associated with pollution.

7. Urban Issues

Urban populations in Cambodia are rising too quickly for the country’s sanitary infrastructure to keep up with the country’s industrialization. Many places lack sewer infrastructure, or if they have, it’s severely broken.

In many metropolitan areas, surface and groundwater are being contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Often, hazardous solid waste ends up in open landfills where it can either blow by the wind or seep into groundwater.

8. Solid Waste Pollution

Pollution from solid waste has increased at a rate of 10% each year. All municipalities and communities must enhance their solid waste management, with a focus on hazardous trash, plastic garbage, electronic and electrical waste, and persistent organic pollutants.

In 2013, Phnom Penh generated around 1,286 tons of solid waste per day, according to a 2015 study carried out by the Institute of Technology of Cambodia and the Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED).

This is expected to treble to 3,112 tons per day by 2030.

Solid waste is growing quickly due to urbanization and rapid population expansion. Solid waste management must be timely and efficient to prevent harm to ecological systems, public health, and climate change.

9. Plastic Pollution

A major problem in Cambodia is the increase of solid waste, especially plastic waste, which is a result of the country’s fast economic and population expansion.

Only around 80% of the enormous 3,500 tons of municipal waste that cities like Phnom Penh generate every day are collected and disposed of at open dump sites.

Waste is sometimes burned in the open in underdeveloped urban and rural regions without waste collection services. Furthermore, the leftover material ends up in the local waterways and streets, where it eventually ends up contaminating rivers with plastic waste.

Pollution from plastic garbage has serious negative effects on the environment and the economy.

Large cities like Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh are more vulnerable to flooding because plastic garbage clogs waterways, causing sewage and drainage systems to get clogged.

Burning plastics makes the issue worse by releasing dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere and endangering the public’s health.

To lessen the negative effects of plastic trash on Cambodia’s ecology, economy, and general well-being, this issue must be addressed.

10. Air Pollution

Numerous sectors, including the building, transportation, infrastructure, and manufacturing and handicraft industries, are responsible for both noise pollution and poor ambient air quality.

The main causes of air pollution are the growing use of automobiles, transportation, and fossil fuels such as coal, fuel oils, and diesel for the production of power; the ongoing use of firewood for industrial and culinary purposes; and the burning of solid and agricultural wastes.

In Cambodia, air pollution is increasing. Numerous serious health issues, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and early mortality, are brought on by air pollution.

The World Health Organization classifies Cambodia’s air quality as moderately dangerous. The country’s annual mean PM2.5 concentration is higher than the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3, according to the most recent statistics.

Furthermore, Cambodia’s air quality in 2020 was ranked 125th out of 180 countries by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Currently, available data shows that Phnom Penh’s air pollution levels are regularly high.


It is necessary to update and fully apply the current rules and regulations to increase environmental quality in Cambodia. It is necessary to create a detailed monitoring plan for solid waste, water, and air quality.

Proposals for pertinent studies on the monitoring and evaluation of air and water quality should be made in hotspot areas across the nation. Installing more automated, real-time air and water quality monitoring stations will show their worth when projects are carried out.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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