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Gov't drought aid push underway

People in Banteay Meanchey province wait for water to be distributed by authorities earlier this year after their community’s water supply ran dry. Photo supplied
People in Banteay Meanchey province wait for water to be distributed by authorities earlier this year after their community’s water supply ran dry. Photo supplied

Gov't drought aid push underway

The government yesterday announced a range of assistance to help farmers affected by the worst drought the Kingdom has seen in 50 years.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is to distribute hardy cropseeds, provide animal vaccines, and dig ponds and irrigation ditches until the water shortage is over which, according to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, could be in June.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has researched rice and vegetables that are resistant to climate change,” said a ministry statement. “The minister . . . has also instructed the Department of Agriculture to plan to dig smaller canals from the main canals to the fields of the farmers.”

Ministry of Economy and Finance Secretary of State Vongsey Vissoth said that 500 million riel (about $124,000) had been allocated to fight the drought but more would be provided if required.

The drought is already affecting tens of thousands of families nationwide, some of whom have no nearby water at all, according to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

Meanwhile, mass deaths of livestock and fish have been reported across the country.

Sem Van, a 30-year-old farmer in Banteay Meanchey, said he feared for his young children and animals. “We lack money to support our family due to the drought and we do not have water,” he said.

Provincial authorities have been delivering water to affected people while the Ministry of Rural Development has been digging wells around the country to tap into the ever-dropping water table.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week ordered the Ministry of Finance to release money to buy gasoline for water deliveries.

Development partners including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development are working with the MAFF to provide assistance.

MAFF spokewoman Meas Sotheavy said the country had a surplus of 3 million tonnes of rice, which was just shy of the amount Cambodia consumes in one year. However, she said individual communes might run into food shortages.

Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture director Sam Vitou said the government was doing the right things but should not have been this unprepared for the drought.

“The [Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology] knew about the drought before and the FAO also predicted it last year, but they started preparing too late,” he said.

“The government shouldn’t have allowed this many people to get hit with shortages to begin with.”

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