A government official in charge of Cambodia’s irrigation infrastructure said Thursday that $40 million of the $504 million promised by the donors this week at the Consultative Group meeting will be used for irrigation projects.
Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology Secretary of State Veng Sokhon said that ultimately more than $2 billion will be needed to repair and expand the badly-deteriorated system of dams and canals that 1.5 million of the nation’s 2.3 million hectares of rice fields need to flourish.
Veng Sokhon said the government will break ground later this month on a massive new dam over Kompong Thom province’s Tonle Sap tributaries called the Stung Chinit Dam.
“We will get another new and bigger dam, the Stung Chinit, to benefit the poor rural villages,” he said. The project will provide water for 7,000 hectares of rice paddy, he added.
The $30 million project is funded in part by a $16 million loan from the Asian Development Bank and $2.7 million grant from the French Development Agency, the secretary of state said. Construction on the dam, located in Baray and Santhuk districts is scheduled to end in 2006. Thirty families will be relocated to make way for it.
Although water flow at the Stung Chinit Dam is projected to have the capacity to generate four megawatts of electricity, Veng Sokhon said that hydropower equipment was deemed too costly when the project was budgeted.
Kompong Thom Governor Nam Tum praised the project.
“If the Stung Chinit dam is built, a large number of villagers can farm rice twice a year,” he said. “I hope their livelihoods will be better…. Generally, farmers rely on the rainwater, and resorting to this option kept us poorer and poorer. “
The project does not to pose a threat to the ecology of the Tonle Sap, officials from the NGO Center for the Study of Cambodian Agricultural Development said Thursday.
An environmental impact assessment was done on the project and a ladder at the dam will be built to accommodate migrating species of fish, CEDAC’s Khim Sophanna said.
“The environmental impact of the Stung Chinit Dam is lower than the economic advantage from the irrigation,” he said. According to the government, 25 villages will be served by canals fanning out from the new concrete dam.
But dams are not the only solution to Cambodia’s near annual battle with drought, said CEDAC’s executive director, Yung Saing Komar.
“Reforestation is important to keep soil moisture up near the surface,” he said.
Organic fertilizers also preserve much needed water in rice paddies, he added.
Yung Saing Komar also suggested that villages build communal ponds and take shared responsibility for the local water source.
Veng Sokhon said that while such large ponds are a good stop gap measure, only large dams will correct a nationwide system that lags far behind irrigation in neighboring countries.
But he said donors have not made them a priority investment, preferring health and education programs instead.