A severe drought is affecting many people in provinces across Cambodia and has prompted the government to warn that it will deepen poverty in the developing country.
Sivann Botum, secretary of state for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and a member of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said women and children are being seriously affected by climate change in Cambodia, especially droughts and floods.
“For many generations, women have been responsible for finding wood and water to supply their families,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service.
She also said many children have fallen ill because of the current drought.
“During the drought, it’s hot, so children get diarrhea,” she said.
Sivann Botum went on to say that the drought is exacerbating poverty in the country, although the government is trying to tackle this issue.
“The government is encouraging ministries to work on agriculture improvements because we have realized that women are facing many difficulties,” she said.
The government has not released any figures on the extent to which the drought has affected the populace.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs is training women to adapt to climate change to help them better withstand droughts, Sivann Botum said.
“We want them to understand how to reduce risks; for example, how to adapt when the temperature gets hot,” she said.
Water sources have dried up
One woman in Kampong Speu province in southern Cambodia said the drought has dried up many local water resources that people there rely upon, with the delay of the beginning of the rainy season, which lasts from the end of May through the first half of October.
The season provides about three-quarters of Cambodia’s annual rainfall, and daily rain is common during its peak between July and September.
The woman, who declined to give her name, said the lack of water has increased her burdens as a homemaker because she has to walk a farther than usual to obtain water.
“Many water resources have already dried up even during this rainy season,” she said. “It’s hard for me to have to fetch water.”
Sam Chhoy who lives in Stoung district of Kampong Thom province in the center of the country said her community has suffered from droughts for the last three years. And this year, the province’s reservoir has dried up.
She said she now must buy water for daily consumption and cannot plant any vegetables for food. She spends 25,000 riel (U.S. $6.09) on each container, although her husband only makes 20,000 riel (U.S. $4.87) a day.
“All the vegetables have died, and even my cows don’t have water to drink,” she said.
The Ministry of Water Resources issued a notice in May, saying that heavy rain was not expected to begin until July.
No water to plant rice
Farmers in central Cambodia’s Kompong Chhnang province also said they do not have enough water to begin planting rice during this year’s rainy season.
Each farming community consists of 15 families which are dependent upon rain water for growing rice.
One local farmer named Meas Soeurk said his colleagues’ plans to increase their yields this season have been scuttled by the water shortage.
Normally by mid-July, farmers have nearly completed their planting, but this year there is little water, he said.
“I have requested that the government study the situation to see if it can build a reservoir or irrigation system,” Meas Soeurk said.
But Heng Kim Sreang, the agriculture director of Kampong Chhnang province, said it is beyond her department to help farmers obtain enough water to plant rice.
Because many fields lie on higher land, they are difficult to get water to, she said. And so far, no other farmers have volunteered to allow their plantations to be used as a reservoir.
Parts of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand also are experiencing a severe lack of rain and higher-than-normal temperatures that have resulted in lower rice production than usual because of the El Niño effect in which changes in weather patterns can produce droughts and floods in the Mekong region.
Reported by So Chivi for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.