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PM calls for drought aid preparations

Young boys plant rice seedlings along a small patch of wet ground in an otherwise dry Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season this year.
Young boys plant rice seedlings along a small patch of wet ground in an otherwise dry Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season this year. Victoria Mørck Madsen

PM calls for drought aid preparations

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on local authorities and government ministries to be ready to distribute water to farmers around the country due to the ongoing shortage in the Kingdom’s reservoirs.

“Drought . . . has been threatening our agricultural production, therefore relevant authorities and ministries have to be ready to help farmers,” the prime minister wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday.

He added that if people had trouble contacting local authorities, individual farmers should post their requests for help directly to his Facebook account, along with their names, phone numbers and locations.

Chan Yutha, a spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources said that the government is using 600,000 litres of fuel set in reserve to run 300 pumps to distribute water in hard-hit areas.

“The Mekong River is very low this year, only 7 metres, therefore the water could not flow into the natural reservoirs or other main sources of stock waters,” said Yutha.

“However, I think that the government is well prepared, so the crop collection this year will not be bad. My estimation is that the year’s rice production is still around 99 per cent of the target of about 2.5 million hectares,” he added.

According to Yutha, the drought only hit 4,000 to 5,000 hectares.

However, Ian Thomas, an adviser with the Mekong River Commission, said that this is too rosy a picture.

The provinces in Northwest Cambodia and those bordering the Tonle Sap lake have been badly hit this year, which will lead to water shortages and food insecurity on a greater scale than the government predicted, he said.

At the moment, official rice figures are “underestimating the damage that was done”, Thomas said.

“There is one dirty secret – when production figures go down, they bring in more rice from Vietnam” to pad the numbers, he said.

An unusually powerful El Niño cycle has contributed to this year’s drought, with next year promising to be even worse, Thomas said.

Thomas expects the effects of El Niño to “peak” in January or February of 2016.

Additional reporting by Igor Kossov

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