A government official warned Thursday that a prolonged drought could strike Cambodia if more rain does not come soon.
Nhim Vanda, first vice chairman of the government’s National Committee for Disaster Management, said Thursday that some provinces were severely lacking rain and that at least 2 million people could face food shortages next year if there is not more rain by the end of August.
“At least 2 million people, maybe more,” he said.
He said Takeo, Kompong Speu and Kandal provinces were the worst affected.
Traditionally, the rainy season in Cambodia lasts from May until November, but the last two years have been unusually dry, he said.
Nhim Vanda said he also worries that about 500,000 Cambodian farmers are already facing food shortages.
“Even though we worry about the possible food shortage, for the time being we don’t seek international assistance,” he said, adding that the government still has reserve food supplies, at least for the next few months.
Thomas Keusters, country director for the UN World Food Program, told The Associated Press he was concerned about the lack of rain but that “it is too early for us to make a call for international assistance.”
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun, however, disagreed with Nhim Vanda, alleging that his predictions were not based on scientific data.
“We aren’t worried about the food shortage this year or next year,” he said. “So far we have gotten enough rain.”
He added that only five areas had not received enough rain: Takeo, Kompong Speu and Kandal provinces and Pailin and Phnom Penh municipalities.
But, he said: “The rain is coming.”
He added that farmers are already growing vegetables and potatoes to make up for any rice shortages.
Beyond limited droughts in a few areas, Chan Sarun said his ministry was also worried about the possibility of the Mekong River flooding. He also alleged that Nhim Vanda was crying wolf to attract more aid.
“The projection by the disaster committee is not realistic,” he said. “The committee just makes it to ask for assistance.”
Sith Vannarith, director of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology’s meteorology department, agreed.
“The forecast shows more rain this year than in 2004,” she said.
But she hedged her bets.
“Let’s just wait and see how much it rains in the coming months.”