In Ratanakkiri, Rain is Power

banlung, Ratanakkiri province -This northeastern town may be one of the few places in the world where residents translate rain into kilowatt hours.

“Maybe we’ll get another hour of electricity today,” one restaurant-goer joked as rain poured down around the town’s restaurant last Friday.

But the problem is serious. Population growth, increased energy usage and a long dry season has left the main reservoir that powers the city’s hydro-electric dam nearly empty.

On Saturday, the five-year-old reservoir, fed by a small stream only a few kilometers from Ban­lung, resembled a large puddle covered with green blobs of duckweed.

As a result, city residents have been without power between midnight and 7 am every night since April 1, said Ung Huor, the chief of the provincial electricity office. The dam refills overnight so that there is enough water to run the 1,000-kilowatt plant the next morning, Ung Huor said.

Every night like clockwork, air conditioners shut down, fans turn off and the karaoke machine at the hotel/massage parlor goes quiet.

This type of rationing has been going on every dry season for the past three years, Ung Huor said.

Even when the dam is full, the two generators are not strong enough to meet the demand of 840 homes, Ung Huor said. The town is divided into four quarters, and since 1996 each section goes without power for a full day once every four days.

There are plans to help solve the problem. The Asian Develop­ment Bank is reportedly evaluating several options for Ratanak­kiri with the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said Ton Leang, the deputy director of the ministry’s energy department.

An additional generator would cost about $800,000 and a new dam about $1.8 million, Tun Lean estimated. Work on either option could begin as early as 1999, Ton Leang said.

For now, Banlung waits for the rain—about 6.7 million cubic meters worth, Ung Huor estimated.

(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)

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