Official Warns of Water Shortage in 2007

Phnom Penh and its immediate surroundings may face water shortages during the 2007 and 2008 dry seasons, the head of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Au­thor­ity warned this week.

Ek Sonn Chan, general director at the authority, said that un­expected population growth in the capital might mean inadequate supplies during the months of April 2007 through June 2008 until a new water treatment center is completed in mid-2008.

“The city is growing so fast that the [Phnom Penh] master plan didn’t predict correctly,” Ek Sonn Chan said of the water shortage risk. “It estimated that there would be a water shortage in 2008, but instead it will be 2007.”

If planned stopgap measures don’t work, he said, water might be cut off to portions of the city during peak hours—much like the rolling electricity blackouts that plagued the capital earlier this year.

Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema disputed this claim, say­ing that the 235,000-cubic-me­ter daily capacity of the water au­thor­ity is more than enough to keep the capital from drying out.

“I have no clear statistics re­garding the water supply in Phnom Penh,” Kep Chuktema said Wednesday. “But…I do not be­lieve that our city will face a clean water shortage because we are situated at a good location where four rivers meet,” he said.

But Ek Sonn Chan—who re­cently won the prestigious Ra­mon Mag­saysay award for his role in re­habilitating the Phnom Penh water supply—said that even though the capital requires only 220,000 cubic meters daily dur­ing the dry season, the current 235,000 capacity is not enough.

Ek Sonn Chan pointed out that most water is used from 6 am to 9 am and 6 pm to 9 pm. So while there may be plenty available for the day as a whole, the authority be­lieves there won’t be enough water during these peak hours.

“We will have to run our facilities at 100 percent…. This is a very risky thing to supply at maximum,” he said.

Khut Vuthiarith, director of the water authority’s Production and Wa­ter Supply Department, said that the average water usage in Phnom Penh is 8,900 cubic me­ters per hour, but during peak times it leaps to over 12,000 cubic me­ters per hour.

“This lowers the pressure in the pipes, particularly in the [city] out­skirts,” he said.

The authority already gets constant complaints from more re­mote customers about inadequate water flow, he added.

As of three months ago, the au­thor­ity has stopped expanding its ser­vice area. For the next two years, the authority will continue to lay pipes—200 km worth—but no wa­ter will flow through them un­til the new treatment facility is com­pleted in 2008, Ek Sonn Chan said.

Large water consumers, like fac­tories, who have on-site reservoirs will likely be forced to rely on these reservoirs during the day, and only be allowed to refill them at night.

“The last solution is that we would shut the supply to certain cus­tomers,” Ek Sonn Chan said.

Once the new treatment plant goes online, it will add 60,000 cu­bic meters of water per day to the system.

Asit Biswas, an expert in water re­source management and recipient of the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize, water management’s No­bel Prize, said Thursday that such problems are common.

“All over the world we have ei­ther underestimated or overestimated population growth in ci­ties,” he said.

He added, however, that there was usually little reason to worry about shortages in large cities like Phnom Penh, because they typ­ically have the political power to impose the necessary solutions.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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