Agriculture Minister Grilled Over Irrigation Fixes

An opposition-led National Assembly commission questioned new Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon on Tuesday about his plans to fix an irrigation system that his spokesman conceded has left 80 percent of the population without adequate access to water during the worst drought in 50 years.

Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lor Reaksmey said Mr. Sakhon told the assembly’s agriculture commission that he would expand the irrigation system and engage other ministries to help with the effort.

“From now on, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources will cooperate to build more irrigation systems and canals, because 80 percent of Cambodian farmers do not have enough water for farming,” he said.

According to the the World Bank, 50 percent of the Cambodian population work as farmers.

Last month, 236 buffaloes and 65 cows died from lack of water and grass in Stung Treng province, and hot water temperatures killed 65 tons of fish in Kompong Thom province, according to officials.

In a drought relief campaign launched last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen, 100 military transport trucks carrying water were sent to some of the country’s hardest-hit provinces.

Keo Vy, a spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, said on Sunday that the rice crop had already been pushed back by three months this year due to farmers’ heavy reliance on rainfall.

Despite the dire state of crops, the project will not begin until next year, as there is no allowance in this year’s budget, Mr. Reaksmey said, deferring specific details to the Ministry of Water Resources, which he said would spearhead the project.

Ministry spokesman Chan Yutha could not be reached.

Pol Ham, a CNRP lawmaker and chairman of the commission, said he was glad the government was planning to expand the irrigation network, but added that more needed to be done.

“I think the current government—and the next government—has to…do this job continuously. We need this water for our rice fields, because our country is the rice field country.”

(Additional Reporting by Janelle Retka)

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