The white measuring stick projecting from the Mekong River’s muddy waters isn’t impressive to look at, but Mekong River Commission officials say it is the beginning of a $1 million project to increase the reliability of flood monitoring along Cambodia’s rivers.
It’s part of a pilot program to measure water levels, devised in response to massive flooding in 2000 that killed nearly 100 people and forced thousands from their homes.
The program is under way in three flood-prone villages in Peam Ro district’s Neak Loeung commune in Prey Veng province.
The commission has installed water-level markers on the banks of the Mekong in Stung Slout and Stung Santhepheap villages, and at the recording station in Neak Loeung.
The markers are read daily by volunteers from the Cambodian Red Cross, said Bun Veasna, the commission’s water management program chief. The high water level is then posted on billboards in public areas, next to the previous day’s level and a prediction of the next day’s.
There are three or four Red Cross volunteers stationed in each village, Bun Veasna said.
In villages that are prone to flooding, the local measurements can provide crucial, extra time for preparation as well as free villagers from dependence on reports from relatively far-off official monitoring stations, he said.
In some cases, officials said, villages like Stung Slout have been known to flood while water-level readings at the Neak Loeung station were still below flood levels.
“We can know when the water will flow into the village,” said Loek Savath, Neak Loeung village chief. “We can prepare ourselves very well.”
“I think this project can alleviate casualties,” said Stung Slout Chief Yos Hoeun.
The project is also being implemented in three villages in the Lvea Em district in Kandal province. The MRC hopes to expand the project to eight areas in Cambodia by 2005, and then to take the project to Laos.