Amid Drought, Farmers Scuffle Over Water

Dozens of drought-hit farmers from two districts in Banteay Meanchey province scuffled on Saturday night after one group blocked a canal leading from a shared reservoir, preventing water from flowing to the other community.

Chhay Thnam, deputy governor of Preah Netr Preah district, said a group of farmers from his district became enraged when they discovered that villagers living upstream on a canal fed by the Trapaing Thmor reservoir had closed the gates of a dam in Phnom Srok district.

“The villagers confronted each other because they are fighting for water to rescue their crops,” he said, adding that 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of mostly rice crops in his district were in desperate need of water.

Mr. Thnam said no one was injured during the confrontation, and that local water resources officials eventually reopened the canal.

Chan Yutha, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources, said the Phnom Srok farmers closed off the canal hoping that it would overflow onto their farmland.

Mr. Yutha said that in order to supply enough water to both districts from the Trapaing Thmor reservoir—which last year held 180 million cubic meters of water, compared to 25 million this year—the gates of a dam in Oddar Meanchey province had been opened to feed the reservoir.

“The water will arrive in that area soon,” he said.

Farmers in at least five provinces are currently struggling to save their crops due to a drought brought on by El Nino, a periodic phenomenon that disrupts normal weather patterns and which experts fear could cause food shortages in the country this year.

Mr. Yutha said about 50,000 hectares of crops have been damaged in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pailin, Takeo and Kompong Speu.

“The rainfall this year is low compared to last year,” he said. “About 50,000 hectares of crops have been affected by the drought so far this year, but we already rescued about 30,000 hectares, and are continuing to do more.”

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