Rain returns to Siem Reap

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A ‘heavy downpour’ in Bakong.

After months of sustained drought conditions, rain has returned – at least at hopeful levels – for now. In fact Savong said the storm that brought the big downpour was strong enough to rip the roofing off at the SOC in Bakong.  Urgent repairs have been carried out this week.  Cambodian weather never goes anything by halves – unlike in my homeland of New Zealand where mad outbreaks of drizzle, or wild streaks of cloudiness break the usual sunshine.

Buildings in the countryside of Cambodia face a precarious architectural problem: being well ventilated for the heat versus being fully enclosed and typhoon proof.  In the city more and more homes and buildings are enclosed and – power outages aside – enjoy air conditioning via heat pumps.

roof2

The fix. New iron, tougher nails.

But in the countryside the architecture is lighter and more susceptible to extreme weather.

I think, long-term, climate change is going to be the dominant concern for rural Cambodia. Economically and architecturally the people are going to be at extreme risk of ruin. Risk has always been a part of rural life – but that marks the difference between advantaged versus disadvantaged nations: the degree of resilience in the face of risks.  In this respect Cambodia has a long way to go.

By the way, my name is Duncan Stuart, and I’ve been involved with Cambodia since 2004. I’m slowly getting to know the country and have been eagerly watching the ups and downs of its development. My blogs are usually about Cambodia in general, though my perspective is through the lens of supporting Savongs School in rural Siem Reap. 

 

 

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World Risk Report – puts Cambodia as 8th most at risk nation.

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One thing when we support Savong’s School and children’s home in Cambodia is that we’ve always tried to put the work in context. I’ve never been a fan of NGOs that feature heart-moving photos of children ( a tug at the heart) without supplying convincing facts and figures to demonstrate the need for their work.

I thought today I’d discuss risk because of the fine line that exists for rural families in Cambodia between basically being self-sufficient and – all it takes is one storm or one bout of sickness – the prospect of lifelong hardship. I was reminded of this recently when I got a Facebook message from a young Cambodian who, having helped his mother plant rice fields a few weeks ago, was stressed out because a big storm was sweeping over and threatened to wipe everything out.

How does one measure the exposure that people have toward risk? The United Nations University (based in Bonn Germany) studies these things and in 2011 drew up their first World Risk Report. It examines a combination of social, economic and natural risks so, for example two nations may share the same degree of earthquake risk, but one nation may have the social and economic mechanisms to deal effectively with the problem, while the other nation – as we saw in Haiti – has people more exposed to risk and less able to cope with an earthquake if it occurred.

They measure:

  1. Exposure to natural disaster or hazards (flood, storm, earthquake etc).
  2. Vulnerability – being a product of:
    1. Susceptibility – Likelihood of suffering harm
    2. Lack of coping capacities – capacities to reduce negative consequences
    3. Lack of adaptive capacities – capacities for long term strategies to reduce vulnerability

When the scores for each nation are compiled, Cambodians are ranked 8th most at risk in the world, headed by small Pacific Island nations (Vanuatu, Tonga, Solon Islands) but also the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Cambodia’s actual exposure to risk is high, though not nearly so high as less at-risk nations such as El Salvador or Brunei. So why are it’s people regarded as 8th most at risk?  What pushes Cambodia up the risk rankings is its high vulnerability score – particularly on account high susceptibility (a typhoon and flooding could affect millions of farmers) but especially on account of the lack of coping capacities. On this count, Cambodia rates particularly poorly.  So while there are quite high risks of flooding and storm damage in Cambodia, there is no systematic way to either provide immediate relief to families, or a particularly good plan to reduce susceptibility to such risks in future.

The World Risk Index may be one of those figures that become critically important in monitoring nations in future – especially, as seems pretty evident now, climates continue to change.  What the Cambodian numbers tell us is that for farmers especially, the risk of a personal ruin brought about by a climatic or natural disaster are higher here than every nation in Africa, for example, and a quantum of risk higher than the USA, Canada or the EU.

As my Facebook friend indicated; every heavy rain could be the start of a ruinous flood. That sound of rain on the tin roof, which is for me one of my favorite sounds, has for many farmers a much more ominous ring.

  • Bangladesh 5th most at risk.
  • Cambodia 8th most at risk.
  • Netherlands 51st most at risk
  • Malaysia 91st most at risk.
  • New Zealand 122nd most at risk.
  • Sweden 164th most a risk.