The government’s emergency campaign to distribute water to some 2.5 million people affected by drought is over, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared yesterday, though for development partners and humanitarian groups, drought relief efforts continue.
The announcement, which came just three days after the premier took to Facebook calling for water distribution efforts to continue, was delivered at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.
“It’s the end of the big campaign, but it’s not the end of distributing water to the areas that lack water. We have to continue in those areas,” he said, adding that this year proved to be a “lesson” to the government for future drought planning.
“We’ve never experienced a shortage of water [like this] . . . We have never held a campaign to distribute water like this,” he continued.
The premier went on to say that improvements to wells and other water infrastructure must continue. Separately, he said the Water Festival’s boat race “must” occur this year after last year’s suspension.
The government’s campaign began on April 26, and 500 million riel (about $125,000) was budgeted for the nearly one-month operation. The National Committee for Disaster Management could not be reached yesterday to provide an update on how many people still face water shortages.
The World Food Programme, UNICEF and FAO are conducting a nationwide household survey to assess “medium and long term needs related to the prolonged El Niño period”, the Humanitarian Response Forum (HRF) said in a statement yesterday.
Relief group ActionAid’s Harald Guelker, who also co-chairs the HRF, cautioned: “The first rains do not mean that the crisis is over. It will take time for groundwater aquifers to recharge and drinking water wells [to] fill up again to normal levels.”
What’s more, initial rains “can flush dirt and feces into open water sources”, increasing the risk of disease, he said.
“We all need to get prepared for the next drought; wells need to be improved, more effective rainwater harvesting in schools and homes needs to be promoted and groundwater monitoring needs to be strengthened.”
World Vision’s humanitarian and emergency affairs manager Socheath So said that his group has spent over $400,000 on short- and long-term drought response in March and April, and has allocated about $200,000 for continued efforts through July.
Humanitarian and disaster reduction manager for Save the Children Seng Samban said yesterday that his organisation “will continue water distribution to schools that still lack water”.