In dealing with Cambodia since 2004 I’ve witnessed some extreme weather – notably flooding during monsoon season when roads, and our school grounds, turned briefly into lakes. But in 12 years I’ve never seen anything as extreme, climate-wise, as the current drought which has taken parts of Cambodia to an emergency situation.
The drought is affecting Vietnam, Thailand and India also and has signs of turning into one of greatest weather-induced catastrophes of our times. Cambodia authorities declared drought conditions on March 29th, and since then 7 weeks have passed by with scant rain and scorching 40 degree temperatures.
Areas as disparate as Battambang in the west to Kandal Province, just South of Phnom Penh, where lakes and small rivers have dried up, to Stung Treng Province in the North, bordering Laos, have suffered. Effects of the drought have included:
- More than 300 farming buffalo have died
- Tonnes of fish are dying in rivers and lakes – more than 60 tonnes of fish in the last week of April
- Ground-water levels at unusually low levels after three relatively dry years
- Wells drying up – an estimated 2.5 million people facing acute water shortages
- Regions where schools are closing due to lack of water
- Rising risk of disease due to increasingly poor water quality – including risks of cholera.
What is causing the drought? Meteorological conditions, namely a large El Nino weather system are directly to blame, but compounding the problem have been extremely poor environmental choices throughout S.E Asia including Cambodia. Massive losses of forestry have hurt normal rainfall patterns while dams have altered the normal aquatic patterns affecting fish life.
I’ve noted in previous blogs that Cambodia is particularly vulnerable to disasters – not just because of the disasters themselves, but also due to the poor disaster relief infrastructure. Farmers are currently losing everything – their crops, their animals and their meagre cash reserves, while there is little or no official welfare system established to assist them. According to the Guardian newspaper, some 19 provinces have been classified as in a serious condition requiring “immediate intervention” from the government which claims that “ministries, military units, NGOs, and everyone capable of helping” have been asked to step up. There has been publicity around delivery of bottled water to drought-hit villages, but little in the way of long-term solutions. And so far authorities have held off on making an appeal for international aid.
Right now everyone is praying for rain. May is supposed to be the commencement of the 3-month rainy season during which 75% of the annual rainfall normally occurs, but according to the Xin Hua news service the present conditions are forecast to last at least until July.
- For more about the shortage of safe, clean drinking water in Cambodia – Cambodia needs more than wells to achieve universal clean water access.
- For insight about the politics of water in Cambodia – Who owns the Mekong?
- For more about Cambodia’s lack of resilience – click here.
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