A severe drought in some parts of Cambodia has killed tons of fish and hundreds of other animals and put villagers at risk of not having enough water to drink, officials said.
Nearly all of the country’s 24 provinces and the special administrative area of Phnom Penh have experienced some level of drought since earlier this year, but a few provinces have faced severe water shortages.
Authorities and experts in central Kampong Thom province said they are taking measures to prevent fish from dying in the Chhmar River in Staung district due to excessively hot weather.
The temperature there, which has reached as high as 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit), has caused water temperatures to rise and areas of the protected river to dry up, killing about 60 tons of fish since April 22, said Pen Vanrith, director of the provincial Fishery Department.
Although the number of dead fish dropped this week, authorities are now concentrating their efforts on preventing further fish deaths in the river, which covers an area of 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres), he said.
“We have put plants in the river to reduce the heat and pumped in water to make sure the current has movement,” he told RFA’s Khmer service.
The water levels are at 0.15 to 0.2 meters (six to eight inches), but they should be around 0.5 meters (20 inches), The Phnom Penh Post reported, citing Nao Thuok, secretary-general of the Ministry of Agriculture.
This is the third consecutive year that excessive heat has killed off the river’s fish, said Pen Vanrith, adding that villagers can safely consume the dying fish because they are not contaminated.
Authorities are monitoring the situation, said provincial spokesman Kong Vimean, who blamed the extremely hot weather on climate change.
“We are searching for nearby water resources so we can pump water into the river to supply oxygen to the fish,” he said.
Authorities are also seeking alternative ways to rescue the fish by digging tunnels to bring water into the river, he said.
Northern provinces affected
Authorities in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province are investigating the deaths of at least 200 cows and water buffaloes in the area from the drought, and helping villagers who face water shortages by digging new wells and transporting water, said provincial spokesman Men Kong.
“We will have an urgent meeting to seek measures to provide water to the villagers, [and] animal experts will look at the reasons why the cows and water buffaloes have died,” he said.
Authorities will first help villagers in Siem Bouk, Siem Pang and Thala Barivat—the three districts hit the hardest by the drought, he said. Temperatures in the province have been in the mid- to upper 90s.
Villager Chea Phaneth said the livestock deaths due to the drought have seriously affected villagers.
“Area residents did not receive information about the drought, so they didn’t create a plan to reserve water in advance,” he said.
As a result, children have had to walk far into the forest to get grass for their families’ cows and buffaloes.
“We released the buffaloes into the woods to find grass, but they died,” Chea Phaneth said.
At least 30 monkeys have died since Thursday after a flooded forest area dried up in northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province, where temperatures have been in the upper 90s, said Hor Sam Ath, deputy of the Rohal Sous fishing community.
More monkeys will die if there is no rain within a week, he said.
Villagers in the province’s Ek Phnom district have also discovered the carcasses of many birds and reptiles that have died from the heat.
Cambodia is at the end of its dry season, which runs from October through April. The wet season, which begins in May, usually brings 75 percent of the country’s annual rainfall.
Reported by Sokheng Saut and Hum Hour for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.