Report: Drought May Cost Cambodia More Than $38 Million

Cambodia may have already lost more than $38 million to this year’s drought, believed to be the worst in years, the Ministry of Agriculture reported Tuesday.

Assessing the damage to this year’s rainy-season rice crop, the ministry estimated that about $1.5 million worth of seedlings and rice paddy have been de­stroyed—most by drought, some by flooding.

The rice these plants would have produced had they survived would be worth about $37 million, according to the report.

The report calculated the potential cost of 15,989 hectares of destroyed seedlings, which died before they could be transplanted to the field, and 41,463 hectares of destroyed rice plants in the field.

It did not estimate the potential cost of seedlings and paddy considered “affected”—not yet de­stroyed, but rapidly nearing the point of no return. These plants make up another 47,130 hectares of seedlings and 144,788 hectares of paddy, seeming to indicate that if current trends continue, losses could be more than three times the $38 million estimate.

The report was released separately from Tuesday’s meeting of national and provincial officials and NGOs, who discussed the com­bination of drought and flood­ing that is making this year “worse than the last few years,” in the words of Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Manage­ment.

Nhim Vanda said 551 communes in 55 districts nationwide have been acutely affected by the drought. Svay Rieng, Kompong Speu and Prey Veng provinces have been hit the hardest, with others receiving some but not enough rain, said Ministry of Agriculture Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves.

Only Siem Reap, Kampot, Kompong Thom, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces have received plenty of rain for rice cultivation, Chan Tong Yves said.

Fewer than 31,000 hectares of the country’s 181,540 hectares of seedlings have flourished, he said—and for the rest, it is probably too late.

“The rainy season will be over by Oct 15. How much rice field can we possibly cultivate [by then]?” Chan Tong Yves said.

Many farmers have given up on their fields and turned instead to other, less water-thirsty crops to feed their families—a stopgap measure that may help in the short term but will leave them with no food surplus for the dry season, he said.

In addition, a lost rice crop leaves farmers without rice seeds for the next season. Government and NGOs have distributed 2,600 tons of rice seed to six provinces for the dry-season crop, Chan Tong Yves said.

But the ministry needs 5,000 tons more to meet people’s needs, he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, some provinces were seeing too much water. The Mekong River on Tuesday was at 21.93 meters, slightly over the official flood level, said Te Navuth, director of the hydrology department of the Ministry of Water Resources.

In Stung Treng and  Kompong Cham, the Mekong had exceeded warning levels and was less than a meter below flood levels, Te Navuth said. The river was at 9.55 meters in Phnom Penh, more than half a meter below the warning level.

Te Navuth said water levels had surged in recent days due to a storm in China but would recede by next week.

Officials have warned that the drought’s victims will be Cam­bodia’s poor farmers, who live off the land and may face food shortages. A farmer in Battam­bang, where there has been some but not enough rain, de­scribed the hope and despair of being dependent on the weather.

Ten days ago, rice fields were turning red, preparing to die, said 46-year-old Kroek Chee, a farmer since he was 12. Last week, rain fell and the rice became green again.

But this small amount of water won’t keep the rice alive long enough to harvest it, he said.

“I am very worried that the rice stalks won’t flourish into a good crop. Even with more rains in the next month, it will be too late to support cultivation,” he said.

(Ad­ditional reporting by Thet Sam­bath)

 

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