As much of the country grapples with crippling floods, a comprehensive report on global climate change released yesterday predicts the situation could be poised to get even worse.
According to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the planet grows warmer, cyclones making landfall around the Gulf of Thailand will dump even greater rains than they have in the past.
The report is the fifth of its kind, and one of the most thorough climate reports ever compiled.
Though the frequency of cyclones is projected to remain the same, or perhaps even decrease, the storms will nonetheless become more severe, with a “likely increase in … cyclone maximum wind speed and rain rates”.
What’s more, generally speaking, “short-duration” storms worldwide will likely be heavier, and “over wet tropical regions, extreme precipitation events will very likely be more intense and more frequent in a warmer world”.
“Future increase in precipitation extremes related to the monsoon is very likely in South America, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia,” the report continues.
Deadly floods are a near-perennial issue in Cambodia. So far this year, nearly 50 have died. Flooding in 2011 claimed 250 lives, and destroyed thousands of homes. While not as deadly, floods in 1996 affected 1.3 million people, and killed 170.
On a more mundane level, heavy downpours in the capital can leave more than a metre of standing water in the streets due to poor drainage systems that have been the target of ongoing renovations.
National Committee for Disaster Management cabinet chief Keo Vy could not be reached yesterday, while Nhim Vanda, NCDM senior minister and first vice president, declined to comment on how the committee planned to deal with increased rainfall in the future.
But even as rainfall swells, the report says, heat stress and extreme temperatures are also expected to increase in “frequency, duration and magnitude”.
While more studies are needed to assess the effect on Cambodia specifically, the impact of these climate trends will be “more negative than positive”, Tin Ponlok, deputy director general of the Ministry of Environment’s climate change office, said.
“There’s definitely a real effect because of the change in rainfall. It will affect the water, agriculture, infrastructure,” he said. “We can expect more flash floods.”
Rising temperatures would bring their own consequences, though Cambodia is taking steps to “climate-proof” itself, Ponlok added.
“It will have an impact on water resources, because it will evaporate more,” he said. “Some crops will not be able to adapt naturally. Nevertheless, there are well known generic measures to address this issue,” he continued.
“Cambodia is currently implementing a World Bank project to redevelop the existing infrastructure to make it more resistant to climate change, the additional rainfall, and so on.”
But, according to Ponlok, Cambodia’s geography means it rests on a knife’s edge when it comes to a warming Earth.
“Cambodia is already a hot country, so an additional few degrees will make the situation worse, definitely – not a few, but even a one- or two-degree increase,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR