Amid a devastating drought, the need to dig more, and deeper, wells is threatening to overwhelm the government’s relief budget, according to government and relief agency officials.
The cost of wells rises exponentially with depth. And as groundwater continues to drop, itself exacerbated by the digging of more and more wells, deeper is the only place to go.
“In the past, we made normal wells, but now the simple well does not work,” said Pum Channy, secretary-general of the Cambodian Red Cross.
Men Neary Sopheak, deputy-general of the Red Cross, said that the CRC is working with provincial authorities to dig between 20 and 200 wells in affected villages or communes.
Private wells are often up to 30 metres deep, according to Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology Secretary of State Bun Hean, while government-made wells are up to 60 metres. Sopheak said government wells can be as deep as 80 metres in the mountains.
Both agree that many of the 30-40 metre wells around the country have run dry and the same has begun happening to the 60-metre versions.
“In Kampong Thom, provincial authorities requested for wells to be at least 100 metres deep,” because shallower wells will be ineffective, Sopheak said yesterday.
This is much costlier. Wells of 30-40 metres can cost up to $500. Wells deeper than 70 metres can cost $2,000 and wells of 100 metres can cost $7,000 or more, according to both Hean and Sopheak.
Hean said that this will likely exceed the government’s relief budget, leaving Cambodia at the mercy of international donors.
The need to dig deeper stems mostly from the worst water shortage in half a century. However, according to a February study by Stanford University researchers, a long-term trend of overreliance on groundwater has also led to depleting reserves.
That study found that groundwater use is rising 10 per cent each year. More wells can depressurise underground aquifers, preventing the water from being pushed up, according to a Mekong River Commission water expert who asked to remain anonymous.
About 2.5 million people are affected by the drought, with 500,000 yet to receive assistance according to the National Committee for Disaster Management.