Drought Leaves Rice Fields, Farmers Thirsty

Government officials and farmers said this week that drought is taking a toll on dry-season rice crops and making it hard for some to get drinking water, though the situation could be alleviated if rainy season precipitation comes as expected.

Normally, some rain comes in February and March, but so far most parts of the country have been dry, the officials said.

“The lack of the rain in the early season could hurt some [rice] production,” said Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture. He said he is worried about harvests in Takeo, Prey Veng and Kandal provinces, where farmers produce most of the country’s dry-season rice.

But Chan Tong said the situation is “not serious.”

Takeo farmer Uy Sarin, 40, said the dry season crop this year has been much more expensive for villagers in Kampenh commune, Prey Kabbas district. She said many villagers are paying rich farmers who have dug wells for water to grow the crop.

“We don’t have enough water to irrigate rice fields, or even for drinking water,” Uy Sarin said.

There was slightly less dry-season rice planted this year, probably due to the effects of rain, said Ram Saravanamuttu, deputy country director for the World Food Program.

The dry season accounts for just over 10 percent of the total area of rice planted each year, which is generally more than 2 million hectares, though the numbers for the 2003-2004 season have not been released by the Ministry of Agriculture. A small reduction in dry-season harvest, therefore, likely won’t have a huge impact on the overall rice supply.

“This means that there are probably pockets of need, but they are not clear yet,” he said.

Many reservoirs and streams in the highland regions don’t have enough water, said Long Saravuth, deputy director of the Hydrology and River Works Department at the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorol­ogy.

Mekong River water levels are a meter lower than normal, which compounds the problem because water from the river could normally be used to irrigate fields and fill reservoirs.

According to a report from the Mekong River Commission last week, the Mekong has dropped to its lowest level in a decade.

“Water from the Mekong Delta did not rise up to fill the dry-season rice in February and March as it usually does,” said Bun Huor, Takeo water resource di­rector. “So people in three districts faced water shortages for their rice.”

One stream is also dry, he said, and villagers are finding it hard to get drinking water.

(Additional reporting by Solana Pyne)


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