Today, water shortages in Preah Sihanouk province are a distant memory, as the current supply is more than capable of meeting the demands of local residents, as well as the tourists who frequently visit the coastal destination.

In 2018, the rapid development of the province began to place a heavy strain on the existing water supply infrastructure, leading to a significant shortage for local residents, and resulting in widespread complaints and opposition to further development efforts.

In 2022, the government took a decisive step to address the issue by establishing the area known as Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay as a natural water source to replace the Boeung Prek Top, which over the years had become increasingly shallow and had seen a decline in water quality.

With the recent completion of the water connection, concerns about water shortages in the province have become a thing of the past.

Preah Sihanouk deputy governor Long Dimanche noted that the provincial town of Sihanoukville and Stung Hav and Prey Nop districts, which previously faced water shortages, now have ample clean water following the extension of the water supply to these regions.

He highlighted that Anco – a subsidiary of local conglomerate Anco Brothers – is the water supplier, serving the residents of the three provincial town and districts.

Dimanche explained that Preah Sihanouk presently boasts a water production capacity of 160,000 cubic metres daily.

Comparatively, the daily water consumption is slightly over 90,000 cubic metres, with Sihanoukville’s daily consumption ranging between 75,000 and 85,000 cubic metres.

“The water supply has been smooth thus far, thanks to the reservoir in Kbal Chhay. The government has designated this area as a multi-use zone, with its primary purpose being a natural reservoir.

“Additional dams have been constructed to store water for various purposes, including water treatment. The water is treated and provided as a clean supply,” he said.

The province currently has a population exceeding 50,000 households, equivalent to nearly 230,000 people, as reported by the provincial administration’s demographic data.

Dimanche noted that in the event the population expands to one million in the future, the province will assess and address potential water supply challenges accordingly.

Improved living standards

Kol Panhpor, a vendor in a Sihanoukville market, said daily life has become more convenient. Procuring water no longer a challenging task, unlike in the past.

She emphasised that having an ample supply of clean water contributes to a comfortable lifestyle and facilitates business operations and work.

She also pointed out that when water was in short supply, it not only made personal hygiene, laundry and cooking more difficult but also resulted in additional expenses for water storage, impacting livelihoods to a noticeable extent.

“When it comes to water usage, we currently enjoy an abundance of water for our business. It’s a different story compared to the past when we had none, and obtaining water was an arduous task.

“It was quite a hardship, and without purchasing water, we had nothing to use,” Panhpor explained.

Chan Dalin, a food vendor located near Phsar Leu Market in Sihanoukville, echoed the sentiment.

“My business no longer faces hindrances from water scarcity; we now consistently have an ample water supply whenever needed,” she said.

She recalled that the period from 2018 to 2019 proved challenging due to water scarcity, affecting the quality of washing vegetables, fish and meat.

Additionally, water usage was frugal because water purchases occasionally arrived promptly, while at other times, they were delayed as sellers had to cater to the demands of others.

She said that at that time, she was very dissatisfied with the decision to develop in the province, believing it was ill-prepared to ensure a stable water supply for the people.

“Back then, all I wished for was sufficient water. But now, with the improved setup that also appeals to tourists, I’m content because sales happen daily,” she said.

Phen Sros, a laundry proprietor, noted that water scarcity no longer affects his business. He can now efficiently wash dozens of clothing sets and even handle tens of kilos at a time.

He said that while water shortages were a real challenge in Sihanoukville previously, development is a necessary and crucial step.

He believes that despite the short-term inconveniences, development ultimately brings beauty, growth and favourability for various activities, particularly those that attract more visitors to the province.

“When there was a water shortage, no one was comfortable, but I support development because lack of progress means prolonged suffering.

“After a few years, life becomes easier, and now some people might not even recall the past difficulties because the current situation is significantly more rewarding,” he said.

Expansion of water sources

Som Savath, director of the provincial Department of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation, underscored that ensuring sufficient water supply is not solely reliant on sourcing water from Kbal Chhay.

It equally hinges on enhancing local water storage infrastructure at the district level, necessitating the construction of additional reservoirs and dams.

“In the past, we faced water shortages due to limited water sources. However, we have now significantly expanded our water sources, alleviating the scarcity.

While the Kbal Chhay area contributes to one portion of our water supply, our districts boast reservoirs, dams and ponds, ensuring consistent water availability across the region,” he said.