Hun Sen Challenges His Opponents to Solve Water Crisis

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday challenged political parties “old and new” to demonstrate their commitment to the plight of families suffering from the effects of the ongoing drought.

The premier was speaking at the inauguration of National Highway 56, which links Banteay Meanchey province with neighboring Oddar Meanchey province in an area that has been among the worst hit by what has been described as the most severe drought in decades.

“On behalf of the government, I am unveiling a campaign to provide water for the people,” Mr. Hun Sen told the audience, stressing that despite the ongoing natural disaster, he had not declared a state of emergency.

The prime minister gave scant details of how the campaign would address the water shortage, but he used the opportunity to challenge competing political parties to show their commitment to the people by helping in the relief efforts.

“We will wait to see if any political parties come to help people by solving the water problem,” he said. “Do they want to take votes in 2017 or 2018, or do they want to help solve the water crisis? Let us wait and see.”

“So you created a party for what? If you can’t solve the water problem, what you have promised is an empty promise,” he continued, noting that the ruling party had already proven its commitment to dealing with the issue.

On Friday, Mr. Hun Sen took to Facebook to urge citizens to conserve water as the government sent out trucks to help those worst affected.

Given the severity of the crisis, he said on Tuesday, provincial governors should remain in their provinces until the drought was over.

Mr. Hun Sen said he had asked the Ministry of Finance to provide funding to the National Committee for Disaster Management to address the crisis. Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the committee, said his officials had so far distributed $125,000 and were waiting for more money.

Gian Pietro Bordignon, country director for the World Food Program, this week described the drought conditions as “moderate” in most eastern and western provinces—based on the most recent data, from April 13—but said Koh Kong and Pursat were facing “extreme drought conditions.”

Mr. Bordignon noted that despite the heatwave and drought, rice prices had not changed, and that “impacts on crop production appear minimal at this time.”

He said predictions about this year’s rainy season, however, were not encouraging.

“The timing in the onset of the next rainy season is not clear, but data from Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology and Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System indicate that precipitation will likely be lower than normal from May to August,” he said in an email.

(Additional reporting by Peter Ford)

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