With barely a drop of rain falling on their parched fields, Battambang farmers are pleading with a construction company to stop blockading the local river so their recently planted crops don’t dry out.
The Asian Development Bank-funded bridge connecting Battambang and Banteay Meanchey has blocked the river since construction began in December, according to Bavel district’s Sang Rang village chief. Local farmers went ahead and planted hundreds of hectares of rice in April anyway, anticipating the rainy season. But the rains haven’t come.
“Last year, there was too much flooding, and this year, there is too much drought,” said Saloeun Linh, executive director of Association Cooperation for Economic Development, which assists farmers. “The crops are dying.”
Villagers and the commune chief have asked the district governor to intervene and get water flowing through the irrigation canal again. Yesterday morning, the bridge construction company let out more water, but not enough to reach all the village rice fields.
“The water is flowing slowly over a shallow area; it cannot spread to places which are far from the bridge,” village chief So Savorn said. “My own rice field and my children’s are about 4 hectares. They will be completely damaged if they do not have water within the month. We used about 1 tonne of rice seed.”
Savorn said 405 families in his village were affected by the drought and the bridge’s damming of the river.
In addition to blockages of water, locals are concerned that the bridge, which is being built under a $55 million Flood Damage Emergency Reconstruction Project, is contributing to river pollution by dumping cement and other waste.
“The water is very dirty-looking and the smell is not so clean,” Linh said.
Families without an alternative water source have continued drinking from the river, he said, leading to many complaints of diarrhoea and stomach pains.
ADB country director Eric Sidgwick said yesterday that the bank had not received any letter of complaint from the villagers but would send a team to investigate on Wednesday.
When the provincial agriculture department visited Bavel yesterday, it noted that the river’s water level was at an all-time low due to the bridge.
“In July, August and September, the lower water level won’t be a problem, but in June, with a drought, no water reaching the canal is a problem,” Oudam Panh, deputy director of the provincial agriculture department, said. “Without intervention, all the dry season crops could be damaged.”