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Another drought year in store for Cambodia

Children try to escape the afternoon heat by playing in a canal in Kandal province earlier this year.
Children try to escape the afternoon heat by playing in a canal in Kandal province earlier this year. Vireak Mai

Another drought year in store for Cambodia

As the weather pattern known as El Niño threatens to wreak havoc on climatic conditions across the globe, the Cambodian government has warned that higher-than-usual temperatures, which already sparked droughts this year, will cause next year’s rainy season to be even shorter.

What’s more, the heat wave is expected to dramatically shorten the already-brief period of mercifully lower temperatures typically experienced in the coming months.

A statement from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology released yesterday said that Cambodia would experience a “dry and hot” climate from December 2015 to May 2016, particularly in April and May, when maximum temperatures will reach up to 41 degrees Celsius, about 1 degree higher than in 2015.

Om Rina, director of the General Department of Water Resources and Meteorology, said the heat may also affect Cambodia’s traditionally cooler “winter” months during the dry season.

Rina said that 2014’s cool period ran from mid-November to February 2015. The coming period, however, may only start at the end of December and finish in mid-January.

The expected heat wave will also push back the start of the rainy season slightly and cause rain to be less plentiful than usual in the early part of the season, according to the statement, which warns people to save water.

“The ministry, relevant institutions and local authorities urge the public to acknowledge this information and pay more attention to preserving water for daily use as well as for agricultural fields,” the statement reads.

This year’s El Niño, a cyclical rise in ocean temperatures in the Pacific that brings dry weather to the region, is one of the strongest ever recorded and threatens to exacerbate drought in the Kingdom, said Ian Thomas, a technical adviser to the Mekong River Commission.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty bad for the dry season harvest.”

Cambodia experienced widespread food shortages in 1997 and 1998 during a previous record-setting El Niño.

The weather pattern currently brewing in the Pacific has been partly blamed for causing 2015 to be the hottest year ever recorded globally.

Drought struck 13 provinces during this year’s rainy season and affected tens of thousands of hectares of farmland more than the year before, according to a Ministry of Agriculture report from September.

Whatever happens, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lor Raksmey insisted yesterday that authorities had been developing methods to educate farmers about climate change and using more resistant crops.

Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, yesterday urged the Cambodian delegates attending the UN’s 2015 Climate Change Conference in December to appeal for more funds to be donated by the world’s rich polluters to poor countries.

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