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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhausted water table a threat to Angkor

Exhausted water table a threat to Angkor

A Japanese-funded pipeline to redistribute water in Siem Reap is being constructed

amid concerns that a continued drop in the level of the town's water table could

destabilize the Angkor temples.

Geologists and archeologists have been concerned for years about water usage around

Siem Reap and its effects on the temples.

For every four meters the water table drops, the ground could settle six millimeters,

according to a Technical Survey of Angkor Monument conducted in 2000.

Currently, the vast majority of households and hotels in Siem Reap rely on water

from individual wells. This increased demand is depleting underground stores of water.

The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) undertook a water feasibility

study in 2000 and concluded that the use of groundwater was sustainable.

The following years, however, saw tourists numbers boom and JICA was forced to revise

their study in 2003. They recommended building a distribution station, so that water

from up to 12 wells located along National Highway 6 could be piped to hotels.

Construction of the pipeline began in October of 2004. JICA anticipates completing

the grant aid project by March of 2006.

Earlier this month, water usage and deforestation were identified as key issues facing

preservation efforts at the annual technical meeting of the International Coordinating

Committee (ICC).

"The water situation is already alarming," said Etienne Clement, representative

of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "We

need to address the consequences of a lack of water as a serious issue."

Deforestation is compounding the water shortage, particularly logging on Phnom Kulen.

"Phnom Kulen is recognized as the water source of this region, and deforestation

brings the problem of decreased water levels because the vegetation is gone, so the

ground cannot retain water," said Tamara Teneishvili, a Programme Specialist

for UNESCO.

As well as the distribution pipeline, other solutions to the water shortage have

been proposed.

In the 2003 Technical Survey of Angkor Monument, one author recommended that no more

wells be dug in Siem Reap and all future water needs be supplied from the Tonle Sap

lake.

Ung Bun-Ang, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, had an even more radical suggestion.

"The government should put a moratorium on tourism development in Siem Reap

until they address the water shortage and the management of sewage in the city,"

Bun-Ang said. "If we allow tourism to develop freely, laissez-faire style, we're

putting a lot of pressure on the environment, and that will affect these temples."

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