Prime Minister Hun Sen took to Facebook on Friday to call on citizens to use water sparingly amid the worst drought in decades, also explaining that the government was trucking water to those most in need.
Mr. Hun Sen said that at least nine provinces were significantly hit by a heat wave that has caused water sources to quickly dry up.
“Please all of you, reduce the wasting of water when facing the water shortage, and I hope that the assistance of the water that authorities are distributing will help all of your needs,” he wrote.
The prime minister said he had called on authorities to ensure that water reached communities in need.
“I have asked the Ministry of Economy and Finance [to] provide funds, through the National Committee for Disaster Management [NCDM], to buy fuel for transporting water for people to use, and the Ministry of Water Resources to use the money to secure water from water sources,” he wrote.
Keo Vy, spokesman for the NCDM, said Sunday that the drought was causing water shortages in 18 provinces: Kompong Cham, Kandal, Kompong Thom, Prey Veng, Kompong Speu, Svay Rieng, Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri.
While the government is currently collecting data on the number of people affected, he said tens of thousands of families were in desperate need of water deliveries.
“Local authorities are working to transport water from different water sources to supply it to those in the 13 provinces facing the most serious water shortages,” he said.
Mr. Vy confirmed that the committee was spending the recently allocated money to buy fuel and dig deeper wells for people, although he did not know how much had been given or spent in total.
He said the drought was likely to continue until July, with rice planting delayed until August, meaning “people will harvest less produce than previous years.”
Oum Chantha, deputy governor of Banteay Meanchey province, said authorities had begun transporting water to families in need two weeks ago, but that the situation had worsened after the Mongkol Borey reservoir dried up last week.
“Some people have been buying water from businessmen because our authorities are not able to distribute water to their homes,” he said.
Chet Mao, a rice farmer in Mongkol Borey district’s Russei Krork commune, said he had not seen any government water trucks, leaving his family to fend for itself.
“My family faces so many difficulties due to the water shortage, especially now that I have to buy water,” he said, explaining that 2,000 liters of water cost 35,000 riel (about $9).
To help alleviate the drought in the region, China has been discharging water from the Jinghong hydropower station in Yunnan province, a move that has been praised by regional governments for giving much-needed relief to families that rely on the river.
Chan Yutha, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources, said last week that the extended discharge would help in four ways.
“First, the water level is low, which increases water temperature which damages fish and biodiversity, so the Chinese water will improve this,” he said.
“Second, the farmers can use the water. Third, the Vietnamese Delta is being affected by seawater flowing upriver due to the low river depth and height, which damages biodiversity. And fourth, to help water navigation,” he said.
Hot water temperatures were to blame for the death of 65 tons of fish in Tonle Chhmar lake in Kompong Thom on Friday, according to Eng Cheasan, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s fisheries department, who said the lake was only 20 cm deep.
The death of a 45-year-old elephant—used to carry tourists in the Angkor Archaeological Park—on Friday morning was also due to the heat, said Man Chhoeun, chief of the Siem Reap provincial heritage protection police. While other causes may have contributed, he said the temperature had been 41 degrees when the elephant fell over and died.
Ly Sovann, spokesman for the Health Ministry, warned people to take suitable precautions against the heat and to ensure they were drinking clean water. He said another concern during extended dry seasons was the spread of disease—most worryingly cholera—although there had been no reported cases so far.
“We are worried about vector-borne diseases such as dengue, and water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea,” he said. “Call us on 115 to report any cholera cases.”