Coming Monsoon to Offer Relief Amid Record Drought

The first monsoon of the season is expected to sweep across Cambodia this week with the rainy season beginning soon after, bringing some relief amid the worst drought in decades, the government said over the weekend.

Heavy storms are predicted to begin on Tuesday and last about a week, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology said in a statement released on Saturday.

A farmer fetches water from a hole he dug in a dried-up canal in Kampot last month. (John Vink/The Cambodia Daily)
A farmer fetches water from a hole he dug in a dried-up canal in Kampot last month. (John Vink)

“People should take caution amid the phenomenon of thunderstorms, lightning and heavy winds that will occur May 17 to 25,” it said.

The statement also said temperatures were expected to drop to 34 degrees Celcius—nearly 10 degrees lower than the record heat that led the Education Ministry to shorten school days earlier this month.

Keo Vy, a spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, said the storm would trigger rainy season’s arrival in early June—bringing an end to a drought that the government previously predicted could last through July.

“The arrival of the monsoon is a good sign for farmers because it will provide heavy rain for our farmers to plow rice for cultivation before the upcoming rainy season,” he said, adding that rice planting had been delayed this year due to a lack of sufficient rain.

Paul Conrad, disaster management program director for the NGO People in Need, said the rains would benefit Cambodians on an individual level, but would not undo much of the damage done by the drought.

“[H]ouseholds should be able to collect the water which these rains will bring and use these to support their household needs such as: replanting home gardens, providing clean water for livestock, and having access to water to improve personal hygiene,” he said in an email.

But in hard-hit areas like Koh Kong province, which Mr. Conrad said had not experienced heavy rain since December, it would take more than a storm to rectify the negative impacts of the dry spell.

“[W]e will need several months of back to back continuous rain in order to get common community water levels up to…sustainable levels. 2-3 days of rain will not have a significant impact in terms of replenishing the already-diminished groundwater,” he said.

The impacts of the drought, which Prime Minister Hun Sen dubbed the worst natural disaster in a century, have devastated much of the country, particularly rural populations that rely on the rain for everything from drinking to farming.

Mr. Hun Sen launched a relief campaign late last month in which a hundred military transport trucks carrying 4,000 to 6,000 liters each of water were sent to severely impacted provinces and provincial governors were ordered to remain in their jurisdictions until the drought abated.

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