Mangrove forests have disappeared at an alarming rate in Cambodia, where climate-conscious women are trying to turn the tide.
When storms hit the waves, sending white horses washed ashore, mangrove forests are often the first line of defense for coastal communities in the tropics.
And with the climate crisis making the climate increasingly volatile, the people living in these coastal communities are waking up to the benefits of mangrove forests, which also provide a habitat for fish and other marine life.
“Mangroves are life. Without mangroves, there is no biodiversity and our fishermen will lose their income, ”explains Varou Mat, a school teacher and mother of three from Kampot province in southern Cambodia.
Kampot is one of the provinces most affected by mangrove logging in Cambodia. Both she and neighboring Kep have seen their mangrove forests shrink 62 percent in the past 30 years, according to Help in Action. The charity is working with women in those communities and elsewhere to help them adapt to climate change.
During storms, mangroves are often the first line of defense for coastal communities. Image: Fuu J
The loss of the mangroves, coupled with the unfolding climate crisis, has left the coastal communities of Kampot and Kep exposed to storm surge. “The floods now last a whole week and damage crops and infrastructure,” explains Nget Mana, a midwife whose parents are farmers in Kampot.
Identified as one of the countries most at risk from the climate emergency, Cambodia ranks 103rd in the ranking Global Gender Gap Index 2021 from the World Economic Forum. Given the the climate crisis disproportionately affects womenActionAid decided to launch a campaign to help Cambodian women adapt.
The She is the Answer campaign supports communities to become more resilient by empowering women to adopt climate-smart livelihoods. The work is backed by research that has shown that female empowerment is one of the most effective solutions available to us to tackle global warming.
One of the programs ActionAid has launched is a mangrove reconstruction project. The charity has been working with Kampot communities to plant 100,000 young mangrove trees along the coast, a goal that has now been exceeded.
Women in Cambodia have planted more than 100,000 young mangrove trees. Image: ActionAid
In addition to being enthusiastic mangrove conservationists, Mat and Mana are part of ActionAid’s burgeoning network of Women’s Champions. It helps give Cambodian women a voice when making decisions at the community and government level.
“Our Women Champions program gives Cambodian women the training, skills and confidence they need to play a decisive role in planning for the future of their communities and our country,” says Samphy Eng, Program Officer, ActionAid Cambodia. .
The charity has trained some 50 women across the country, equipping them with climate science knowledge and helping them play an active role in decision-making.
Women and children are the most affected by climate change. I want world leaders to pay more attention to them.
In addition to planting mangroves, women have participated in the creation of a network of climate-adaptable floating gardens, as well as floating schools, where future generations are taught about climate resilience.
“Before Women Champions existed, women were afraid to speak up,” says Mat. “Now, they are brave to talk about their problems, their needs and what they want.”
Since receiving training from Action Aid, Mat has become a climate activist and is helping to raise awareness about the impact global warming has on women.
“When climate change happens, women and children are the most affected,” he says. “I want world leaders to pay more attention to them.”
This article is published in partnership with ActionAid to help raise awareness of their new campaign, She Is The Answer, which helps empower women in Cambodia to have a voice in the face of the climate emergency.