An estimated 85-90 percent of the population lives in rural
areas. Ethnically the population consists of about 90 percent Khmer, 5 percent
each of Chinese and Vietnamese and small numbers of hill tribes (Chams and
Burmese). Khmer is the country's official language. It is spoken by more than 95
percent of the population. French, as a second language Ian a is also spoken,
mostly by older people. English is more commonly spoken by the younger
Cambodian population presents several important features. First, due to the
baby' boom after 1979, it is a young population with at least half (50%
according to some sources, more according to others) under 18 years of age now.
Secondly, the proportion of women in the adult population is high, 56% of those
who are 18 years old or more
females. Also as a result of the war, there is a rather high proportion of
women-headed household; at least 25% according to UNICEF.
populations, and average population densities in the smaller countries are much
lower than in
Even the very densely populated areas in
do not have such a concentration of population as can be found in the Red
and Mekong River Deltas in Vietnam
population of Cambodia
provinces. During the late 1970s, under the
brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, all of Cambodia's
towns were depopulated, and residents were forcibly relocated to rural areas. A
process of re-urbanization began in the 1980s.
Plant and Animal
cover 53 percent of Cambodia's
land. The densest forests thrive in the mountains and along the southwestern
coast. Higher plains and plateaus contain savannas covered with high, sharp
grass. Plants growing in
include rubber, kapok (a tree with seeds that yield a cotton-like fiber), palm,
coconut, and banana, all of which are exploited commercially.
includes elephants, deer, wild ox, panthers, bears, and tigers. Cormorants,
cranes, parrots, pheasants, and wild ducks are also found, and poisonous snakes
are numerous. Logging and mining activities, along with unregulated hunting,
have diminished the country's wildlife rapidly.
total land area, only 21 percent is cultivated. Areas surrounding the Mekong
and the Tônlé
are the most fertile regions. The country's once-ample
timber resources have been poorly managed and are being rapidly depleted by
local and foreign entrepreneurs. Although
is not rich in mineral resources, Batdâmbâng province in
contains limited quantities of zircons, sapphires, and rubies. The central part
of the country contains commercial deposits of salt, manganese, and phosphate. The
is thought to contain petroleum deposits, but the extent and accessibility of
the reserves have yet to be determined.
most important river is the
the longest river in
and the tenth largest in the world. The
flows from north to south through
and is navigable for much of its course. Other rivers in the country include the
Tonle Srepok and the Tonle Sab.
principal lake, the
is the largest in
From the northwest, the
drains into the
. Each year during the monsoon season
(approximately May to October), the waters of the
increase and reverse the flow of the Tonle Sab, which begins to drain into the
lake. The lake then expands dramatically, flooding the provinces along its
banks. When dry weather returns, the river reverses its course again and flows
back into the
draining the northwestern provinces. At the height of the flooding, the
reaches more than 10,000 sq km (4,000 sq mi), or about
four times its size in the dry season. The lake is one of the richest sources of
freshwater fish in the world.
Deforestation is the most serious threat to
environment. In the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian forests and wetlands were harmed
by bombings and defoliants used in the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and 1980s the
damage continued with the disastrous agricultural policies of the Khmer Rouge
regime and civil war. In the relatively peaceful 1990s, timber became an
important export for
More than 800,000 hectares
million acres) of Cambodian forest were cut down from 1990 to 1995. In 1995 the
government responded by banning log exports, but illegal timber exporting has
led to continued deforestation. The annual rate of deforestation in 1990-2000
was 0.58 percent.
of the mangrove swamps crucial to the country's fisheries and wildlife have been
destroyed. The loss of wildlife habitat and the negative environmental effects
of logging and mining industries have caused a decline in biodiversity. In 2000,
86 species were listed as threatened in
including 21 species of mammals. In addition, the pollution and contamination of
streams and lakes has made much of the country's fresh water unsafe. Only 30
percent (1999) of all Cambodian people have access to safe, drinkable water, and
only 18 percent (1999) have access to sanitation.
addition to banning the export of lumber, the Cambodian government has declared
a large portion- 16.2 percent (1997)-of the country's total land area protected.
The government has also ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate
change, desertification, endangered species, marine life conservation, ship
pollution, and tropical timber.