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Getting the H2O to where it needs to go

Cambodia’s unprecedented drought is affecting an estimated 2.5 million people in the country. Florian Gleich
Cambodia’s unprecedented drought is affecting an estimated 2.5 million people in the country. Florian Gleich

Getting the H2O to where it needs to go

An informal group of individuals, organisations and businesses has been collaborating with local authorities in Siem Reap to raise funds for and deliver water and food to drought-stricken communities in the province.

On Wednesday, this week, they made a first delivery of 4,000 litres of water to Ta Tok village in Puok district, and yesterday, 2,000 kilograms of rice were dispatched to another community near Bakong. 

Originally established by Canadian Rick Wakeman, with support from Australian Lynn Cummings, the confederation, which has taken the name Water on Wheels, intends to raise sufficient funds to deliver water to those who need it across Siem Reap for the duration of the crisis.

According to Wakeman, more than 18,000 people in Siem Reap do not currently have access to adequate water supplies. “Water on Wheels is a simple matter of geography – where is the water, where does it need to be and how do we get it there?” he said. 

The first 2,000 litres of water was donated by the Siem Reap Water Supply Authority, which has pledged a further 10,000 litres a day for the next 20 days, on a renewable basis, said Wakeman. The activists made the arrangements for a truck, tank and crew to deliver the water, and are now looking for bigger tanks for future deliveries. 

They were surprised, and delighted, when they arrived in Ta Tok and local police officers immediately started to assist with distribution. 

Many Cambodians have been forced to resort to other water sources because of the drought. Florian Gleich
Many Cambodians have been forced to resort to other water sources because of the drought. Florian Gleich

Mainly through personal appeals made by individuals all over Siem Reap, the group had already raised donations and pledges of up to $5,000 within two days of mobilising.

A number of businesses in town have now been nominated as donation sites, including Rosy Guesthouse, Santa Clara hotel, Ecstatic Pizza and Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village. 

Other businesses are also engaged in fundraising activities, including est., a design and marketing firm, which is hosting an exhibition, Creation I, on Saturday, May 21. The Hangout is hosting a Pies for Water event on May 25, and Santa Clara will host a Spanish Night on May 17 or 18, with details to be confirmed. 

A crowdfunding page has also been set up, and separate donations have already come in from places as far flung as the Netherlands, Japan and Australia. 

According to Wakeman, the initiative was sparked after Deputy Governor Pov Pisith was called out to Kampong Phluk last Sunday when several hundred children fell ill from drinking tainted water. 

“He was trying to work out what to do as the government’s disaster relief fund is maxed out at the moment,” said Wakeman, whose working colleague Chea Sarin was with Pisith. Sarin reached out to Wakeman.

“One thousand one hundred people in that village have no drinking water and no food because the drought has smashed the local economy to smithereens. And that is just scratching the surface of the pending crisis,” said Wakeman, adding, “And so it began.”

The relief efforts appeared to be relatively ad hoc in the early stages, with needs being identified based on word of mouth and reports from colleagues and associates in the field.

However, the group is taking and following advice from the governor’s office, and the first delivery, which had been destined for Kampong Phluk, was rerouted to Pouk at the request of provincial authorities.

An earlier version of this story said that the group delivered 2,000 tonnes of rice. In fact, they delivered 2,000 kilograms.

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