Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday warned opposition parties not to politicize the severe drought crippling the country while also accusing them of not doing enough to help those affected by it.
The premier made the warning during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh while heaping praise on the ruling party’s efforts to distribute water to victims of the drought.
“Please do not seize the chance to politically exploit the issue of the drought in Cambodia,” he said, going on to reiterate a challenge for parties to show their commitment to the people through drought relief efforts.
“Hopefully every political party that has shown its muscles to get ballots in the near future will demonstrate physical activities to serve people,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen lauded efforts to distribute water by the armed forces, the private sector, his own Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodian Red Cross, which is headed by his wife Bun Rany.
But he took aim at anyone linking the drought to deforestation, urging broadcasters to highlight the damage wrought by the extreme weather conditions on other countries in the region.
“Every television station, please show the issue of water shortages occurring in other countries in order to stop cheaters who like to make negative propaganda by saying that flooding happens because of cutting trees, and that the drought now occurs because of cutting trees,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said, however, that there was clear evidence of a link between deforestation and droughts.
“As you know, drought, [as it] is known around the world…is caused by global warming caused by deforestation, and Cambodia has cut down her forests,” he said.
Figures released late last year by the Washington-based World Resources Institute showed forest loss accelerated faster in Cambodia than any other country in the world between 2001 and 2014.
Mr. Chhay also said responsibility for drought alleviation lay squarely on the government, which controlled the national budget and state institutions meant to handle such disasters.
“The government knew about the drought in advance,” he said. “The question is what have they done to prepare? Quite clearly they have not done their job. Why are so many people crying out for help? They should instead have prepared, not run around now and spent money as a reaction.”
Drought has hit hard throughout mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia, where temperatures have soared during the annual dry season, exacerbated by the El Nino weather cycle. On Wednesday, Voice of America reported that more than 150 people had died in India as a result of the extreme conditions there.
In Cambodia, 18 provinces are facing water shortages and are currently receiving emergency water deliveries, according to the government, which dispatched 100 military transport trucks to some of the hardest-hit areas this week.