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)