As officials and development agencies marked International Water Day yesterday, thousands of families in Kampong Cham province went without a drop – some reportedly for the sixth day in a row.
The local authorities and rights workers made desperate pleas for aid as reports emerged that wells have run dry and the system is unable to meet demand.
Preap Somala, director of the Kampong Cham Provincial Water Supply Unit, said that demand in and around Kampong Cham town had risen this year to about 8,000 cubic metres per day, but current stores allowed for only about 100 cubic metres to be supplied. It has been more than 30 years since the region has witnessed such a severe drought, he added.
“The wells have dried out. Every year, the waters are receding, but it hasn’t dried out as fast as this [in recent years],” he said. “In 1983, it was as dry as this. Climate problems have caused rapid evaporation, and there has been no rain for months.”
In some areas, residents have not had access to clean water for more than six days.
“At the moment, we can only get 100 cubic metres per day. The water is not reaching people who live in elevated areas. Many have turned to buying [bottled] water so they have something to drink,” Somala said.
This was an expense many could ill afford, said Thim Narin, Kampong Cham provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
“The people who do not have any possessions to store water in desperately need [help]. At night, they try to turn on their taps, but when they cannot get [any water], they need to buy it the next day,” he said. “Everyone is waking up in the night to try to get running water.”
Kchong Oun, Boeung Kuk commune chief, said that 1,800 families in the commune had no running water. Kampong Cham town governor Sok Khemra said at least 1,000 families in the city were in need.
Provincial authorities, he added, were preparing pumping equipment to direct river water into the main water supply as a temporary measure. “In the next few days, the water shortage will be solved,” he said.
Japan is funding a $13 million project to increase access to potable water in the province, which is due to be finished next year, he added.
A 35-year-old Kampong Cham woman, who declined to give her name, said there had been no warning before the wells dried up and she was now spending $2.50 per day on water.
“There’s not even a drop from the pipes now. It’s very difficult for me to do washing . . . Normally I would spend between $2.50 and $5 per month, but now I’m spending that much in just one day,” she said.
The Ministry of Rural Development has claimed it met its Millennium Development Goal of providing clean water to half of the population. However, a statement from UNICEF said that “more than a half of Cambodian people have not got enough clean water for a full year’s consumption”.