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Amid drought, party politics

Authorities in Banteay Meanchey province fill barrels with water yesterday for distribution to people facing a shortage of clean water. Photo supplied
Authorities in Banteay Meanchey province fill barrels with water yesterday for distribution to people facing a shortage of clean water. Photo supplied

Amid drought, party politics

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on all authorities to help relieve tens of thousands of drought-stricken Cambodians, but not without injecting some partisan politics into the mix.

“I appealed to all other political parties, both old and new, to take action [to supply water to people], and we are waiting to see which party can show up,” the prime minister told the audience while inaugurating a national road in Banteay Meanchey province.

“I appealed to all CPP working groups to resolve the water supply to their local constituencies.”

Hun Sen added that during the upcoming commune and national elections, the public will remember which parties stepped up to help.

Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann yesterday said that while the CNRP is doing its best to collect relief donations from supporters around the world, providing disaster relief is the ruling party’s responsibility, according to the constitution.

“The ruling party collects the taxes, the international assistance, the international loans … and makes up the National Committee for Disaster Management,” said Sovann, who added that there would “not be this big of a problem” had the government prepared more thoroughly.

Indeed, the CPP has long been conflated with the government by a large chunk of the populace, said Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, who questioned the rationale of putting the onus on parties who have no control over the apparatus of government.

Hun Sen wants the other parties to “help how?”, Sam Oeun asked. “The government has all of the funds.”

The agricultural NGO CEDAC similarly said on Monday that the Ministry of Water Resources knew about the coming drought since last year but the government had not adequately prepared.

Despite 2016 shaping up to be a “disaster year,” Hun Sen decided not to declare a state of emergency. However, during his speech, he called on the armed forces, the NCDM, the Cambodian Red Cross – which is run by his wife, Bun Rany – and private companies to help.

At the ceremony, Hun Sen symbolically poured water from a large tank into containers brought by drought-stricken residents of the province.

Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Center for Disaster Management, said yesterday that the drought was forecast to continue until July due to the impact of the severe El Niño cycle.

Vy said the NCDM currently estimated about 10,000 families are “severely” suffering from the water shortage. The drought has so far hit 18 of Cambodia’s 25 provinces.

Men Neary Sopheak, spokesman for the Cambodian Red Cross, said that all provincial offices are already working with local authorities to dig between 20 to 200 wells in each affected area.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat, meanwhile, said that all military divisions in the provinces are preparing pumps to transfer water from existing supplies to the drought-stricken areas.

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