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Water flow ‘still weak’ after pipe installation

After blocking a river for months, a construction project’s recently installed water pipes are delivering relief to only some of Battambang’s drought-stricken fields.

More than 400 farmers in Bavel district blamed the Asian Development Bank-funded bridge for choking the river since construction began in December, leaving them to depend on increasingly capricious rains to water crops. Responding to complaints this week, the Ung Sim Sia Construction company installed four pipes to allow water through the construction site, a remedy with mixed results.

“The water is now flowing … but it is slow, and the water level is lower due to the dry season,” Bavel commune chief Sar Sari said.

Sari’s village is now able to water planted fields, with the crop sustaining little or no damage. But further downstream, where a secondary canal ordinarily delivers water, the fields remain parched.

“I am worried my rice plants will all die,” Sa Soeum, a Sang Rang village farmer, said. “We do dry cultivation every year, and we have never had a problem like this because we can take water from the creek. But this year, the water cannot flow into the creek due to the bridge construction."

To get water to the far end of the canal, the provincial department of water resources installed two pumps, but during a field visit yesterday, it noted little benefit.

“The river is empty, what can we do?” Chan Dararith, chief of the department office, said.

With the river now flowing too little and too late, provincial officials advised villagers farther from the shore to cease farming until rainy season or build their own reservoir.

“It’s impossible for farmers far from the head of the canal to get water,” Oudam Ponh, deputy director of the provincial agriculture department, said. “For Battambang, I think this is the effect of climate change.”

According to a 2012 report, since 1997, Cambodia has observed a two-month delay in the arrival of the wet season, from April to June. “We have no choice now but to pray for rain,” Dararith said.

The ADB said yesterday it was continuing to investigate complaints about the bridge.

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