Cambodian farmers will face severe food shortages if rainfall doesn’t dramatically increase within 10 days, the top disaster control official warned on Wednesday.
Most of the country is suffering “the worst dry spell since 1995,” said Nhim Vanda, first vice chairman of the National Disaster Control Committee. The nationwide drought is an immediate threat to rice production, he said.
In the massive drought of 1995, rice crops failed across the poorly irrigated countryside, causing millions of rural peasants to go hungry.
Normally, at this time of year, there should be heavy rains and even flooding throughout Cambodia, Nhim Vanda, who is also a member of parliament, said outside the National Assembly.
“The river level should rise around this time,” but hasn’t, he said. “We are suffering a drought in the middle of the rainy season.”
The areas most affected, he said, are Kompong Speu, Kampot, Takeo and Kompong Chhnang provinces. While provinces such as Svay Rieng, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom and Battambang have gotten more rain, it still hasn’t been enough, he said.
This time last year, he noted, heavy rain caused flooding in Koh Kong, Kompong Speu and Preah Vihear provinces. This year, no major flooding has been reported.
Rainy-season rice production is at just 2 percent of normal in Kompong Speu, 3 percent in Takeo and 5 percent in Kampot. In many other provinces, the majority of the rice seedlings have been dried out by unrelenting sun and lack of water, Nhim Vanda said.
He said Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered gasoline and rice seeds be sent to farmers in the most affected provinces in an attempt to rescue the threatened rice crop.
But on the floor of the assembly, opposition lawmakers blamed uncontrolled commercial logging and the resulting deforestation for causing both the devastating floods of previous years and this year’s drought.
Nhim Vanda, a member of the ruling CPP, rejected these charges. He said Cambodia’s water supply depends on snowmelt from Tibet and rain in the upstream areas of the Mekong River.
During the Assembly debate, opposition leader Sam Rainsy repeatedly brought up the drought, blaming it on the government, which he said has done nothing to stop the destruction of the forests, now estimated at just 35 percent of their original size.
Assembly First Vice President Heng Samrin repeatedly warned Sam Rainsy that he was too far off the topic at hand—the forestry law.
As Sam Rainsy continued to talk, a furious Heng Samrin banged his gavel three times and yelled at Sam Rainsy to stop speaking, saying he was violating Assembly protocol.
Sam Rainsy insisted he was “just telling the truth” and called Heng Samrin a “dictator,” prompting CPP lawmaker Nei Pena to stand up and shout profanities.