Cambodia faces severe and prolonged drought

Experts say that this year’s drought will be worse than in 2015, with soaring temperatures and a delayed monsoon season likely

Daniel Besant
March 23, 2016
Cambodia faces severe and prolonged drought
On the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia's Kandal Province. Photo: EPA/Mak Remissa

Cambodia is officially in a drought, and the conditions could last longer and be more severe than last year, when monsoon rains did not fall until July.

“Based on our monitoring, drought has been detected in Cambodia,” said the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat. “The current drought situation in the country as of March 2016 could be at least as serious as that in 2015 and may likely be getting worse in coming months.”

Last year, according to the MRC, the onset of monsoon rains was delayed until July. A similar delay of the monsoon’s arrival, which is due in May, until as late as August or September is possible this year.

“Obviously, the longer it takes the monsoon rains to finally arrive the worse the situation could get,” the MRC added.

Chan Youttha, spokesman at the Ministry of Water Resources and Management, agreed with the MRC’s assessment, saying: “This year’s drought could be at least as serious as last year, or worse, and last until late August or early September.”

“The heat will be increasing,” Youttha added. “During this Khmer New Year [temperatures] could reach 40 to 41 degrees [Celsius].”

Yesterday, the Phnom Penh Post reported that in Kampong Thom province, Stoung and Prasat Balang districts are facing water shortages. Across the country, 48 communes may have insufficient water this dry season, the newspaper said.

“The worst drought is happening in seven communes in Kampong Thom’s Stoung district,” Youttha told Southeast Asia Globe. “There are 15,000 to 16,000 families living in those areas facing lack of water to use, but we have set up pumps to bring water to the people.”

The MRC pointed to data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Centre for Satellite Applications and Research – a scientific agency that provides information on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere – that indicated drought is spreading across the country.

Both the MRC and the water resources ministry agreed that this year’s drought is a product of a strong El Niño – a cycle of extreme weather conditions caused by warmer than average sea temperatures in the Pacific.

“We have also observed that the prolonged nature of the current El Niño event, starting back in 2014, has caused additional drought problems,” the MRC said. “As a result, parts of northwest Cambodia have been experiencing drought conditions since 2014. The water deficit has therefore built up considerably.”

Cambodia’s neighbours are also facing water shortages. Vietnam’s main rice growing region in the Mekong Delta is experiencing its worst drought and saline intrusion in recent history, the Associated Press reported last Thursday.

On Friday, Vu Duc Long of Vietnam’s National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting told Vietnam News Agency that a number of rivers in the south-central region have shrunk to the lowest level ever recorded, while Central Highlands provinces are experiencing a similar situation.

Yesterday, Thai PBS reported that 17 provinces in Thailand contain areas critically affected by drought, which need emergency assistance from the state.

Additional reporting by Tran Techseng

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