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March 22, 2012

Cardamom Mountains forest: Does the Wildlife Alliance value trees and animals more than people?

Since the end of the Cambodian civil war in the 1990s, non-government organisations (NGOs) have cleared vast areas of land mines, halved the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, saved habitats and wildlife and kick-started the economy.

But, like governments and businesses, NGOs are run by human beings, so we can expect a wide range in the value of their work. Visitors who want to donate or volunteer may find it hard to decide which NGOs to support.

Even the Wildlife Alliance (see my previous post) has been criticised for putting trees and animals above people, and for working too closely with corrupt authorities that abuse human rights. In defending itself, the Alliance says: “We have to be careful and build alliances that are sometimes uncomfortable. It’s delicate because the government can shut down an NGO whenever it wants. … We’ve been able to get things done and reverse concessions by working quietly inside the government and reminding it of its own legal obligations.”

This is a dilemma that many NGOs face: advocate for the victims of corruption and abuse and be shut out and ignored, or work within the system and make some gains. Having seen what the Alliance has achieved in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, I think they have made the right choice. It also seems that they value people as well as trees and animals, judging by the success of their Community-based Ecotourism project.

NGOs face threats to their role: until recently the cash-strapped government needed them to boost the economy, but now Chinese investment and tourism has increased dramatically, and comes without strings about human rights. Prime Minister Hun Sen is pushing a law on associations and NGOs (LANGO), which will make it easier to control or ban organisations. Each NGO must decide how to operate in such an environment.

Some NGOs have also been criticised for imposing their own agenda on Cambodians, fostering dependence on outside help or not ensuring proper protection for children in their care. But many organisations appear to be well-managed and doing valuable work for the country. The next post will be about NGOs that, like the Wildlife Alliance, combine environmental protection with community and economic development.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. theelectriccane permalink
    March 23, 2012 4:57 am

    Reblogged this on Theelectriccane's Blog and commented:
    As the founder of an NGO, I am all too familiar with these issues. As I have a visual impairment, our NGO makes big strides since I can set an example for people with disabilities. I don’t like being dependent on anyone and I know many people with special needs feel the same way. There are many things you can do, you just need a push.

  2. Bryce permalink*
    March 23, 2012 10:00 am

    Thank you for reblogging the post. I’ve worked in NGOs in Australia (mental health) and believe we should always respect the independence of other people. Enjoyed reading about your travels in South-east Asia.

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