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Water shortage fears grow amid record heat wave

Authorities park a fire truck next to empty water containers in Kampot province yesterday as they prepare to distribute water to locals after public supplies became sparse. National Police
Authorities park a fire truck next to empty water containers in Kampot province yesterday as they prepare to distribute water to locals after public supplies became sparse. National Police

Water shortage fears grow amid record heat wave

The provincial capital of Banteay Meanchey, Sisophon, could be dry within 10 days, leaving tens of thousands of residents without clean water, according to the province’s governor, who has called on the private sector and NGOs to help.

Governor Suon Bavor yesterday said the prolonged dry spell that started last year – which has been exacerbated by a record heat wave around the country – was already causing water shortages in Svay Chek, Thma Puok and O’Chrou districts, and irrigation systems throughout the province were running dry, he said.

“Last night [Wednesday], it rained heavily, but after the rain, the lakes and rivers remained empty,” he said. “At the moment, we are facing water shortages because the water in the Serei Sophorn [Sisophon] and Mongkol Borei rivers is evaporating and some parts are empty.”

Bavor said he contacted Battambang provincial authorities to request they open the Kamping Puoy reservoir so that the water could flow into the Sisophon River, although doing so could potentially waste water through evaporation and ab-sorption into the parched earth.

“Nothing is possible besides using trucks to pump the water from the reservoir. That needs a lot of gasoline and it requires the private sector and development partners for support, in accordance with their social responsibility,” he said.

Local media reports indicate water shortages are not limited to Banteay Meanchey. Communes in Kampot, Preah Sihanouk, Mondulkiri, Siem Reap (including Siem Reap town), Preah Vihear, Battambang, Oddar Meanchey and Pailin (including Pailin town) are all reportedly experiencing water shortages.

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The 2015 drought, exacerbated by what has been dubbed a “Godzilla” El Niño cycle, has reportedly left some farmers in the country’s northwest without a single rice harvest.

However, this week’s report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts La Niña, which typically brings wetter conditions to Southeast Asia, will kick in by August or September.

This week’s drought stress map of the country by the NOAA paints the country mostly in black – a “high” level.

Independent researcher Dr Veerachai Tanpipat in an email yesterday said that NOAA’s maps were “obvious” in what they mean, however, rain may be in store.

“Just a few days ago NOAA also predicted that there will be a La Niña effect which will cause more rain in our region.”

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, EU Ambassador George Edgar said he had observed the drought in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri firsthand and, while refraining from ascribing the conditions directly to climate change, said “there’s no doubt it’s very dry”.

“Extreme temperatures, changes in the pattern of flows in the rivers . . . and more droughts, those are issues that the government of Cambodia needs to take into account for planning for the future,” he said.

Officials from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology either declined to comment or could not be reached.

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