It is no wonder, then, that the environment tends to get short shrift, what with lakes being eliminated to allow the building of high-rises, forested land being devastated by loggers and teachers being underpaid. The list is long, and the foregoing items barely scratch the surface.
Air pollution is way down any list. The streets of Phnom Penh are clogged with a constantly rising number of motos, tuk-tuks and the elite’s SUVs (most of the last mysteriously black), all of them spewing stuff that no one ought breathe.
At least the rarity of heavy or light manufacturing in Cambodia is a blessing when it comes to pollution, a curse when it comes to economic development.
But numerous households in rural areas and even in Phnom Penh, many of them above abject poverty, rely on open fires to cook food over charcoal and, less often, wood. Charcoal is doubly offensive: It is made in the countryside but not far from Phnom Penh.
In a nation such as this, the sources of air pollution might possibly be viewed as a necessary evil, though it doesn’t need to be an evil to which the government and NGOs must surrender.