kompong trabek village, Kompong Trach district, Kampot province – Every morning at 5:30, Kim Vibol climbs out of bed and onto his bicycle to begin an 8-km round trip to buy a day’s supply of water for his family.
The 26-year-old villager’s daily routine began in mid-March, when the communal pond close to his house finally dried up after months without rain. Drawing water from the village pond cost Kim Vibol nothing. Now that he is forced to pay 100 riel for every liter he buys, he cannot afford to waste a drop.
“I spend 3,000 riel on water every day,” Kim Vibol said. “My son has a bath every day but I save water and just use a little.”
Lin Da, 37, is more fortunate. Everyone in her family has two baths a day. While neighbors who tried to dig wells found only salt water, her family managed to tap an underground freshwater reservoir on their property.
As a result, 20 to 30 people from her village arrive at her house early each morning to ask for water. She gives it to them free, knowing how easily she could be in their situation.
The story is the same all over the coastal province of Kampot, where natural sources of running water are scarce. According to Kampot First Deputy Governor Tit Ream, at least 30 rain-filled ponds and reservoirs have dried up, leaving people struggling to find alternative supplies.
Kampot is one of five provinces most affected by this dry season’s unusually low rainfall and high temperatures, said Seth Vannareth, deputy director of the department of meteorology and hydrology at the Agriculture Ministry. Other provinces now facing shortages are Battambang, Siem Reap, Pursat and Oddar Meanchey.
“This year has seen the strongest influence of the El Nino weather phenomenon since 1950,” Seth Vannareth explained. “El Nino has changed the weather from tropical hot-wet to hot-dry.”
El Nino has sent rainfall levels plummeting and temperatures rising by several degrees. The usual minimum and maximum temperatures in Kampot this time of year are 24 and 33 degrees, Seth Vannara said. This year, they have risen to 27 and 35.
Undersecretary of State for Agriculture Chan Tong Yves says the adverse weather conditions in Kampot are compounded by the absence of any large rivers.
Countrywide, NGOs such as Sawa, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Japan International Volunteer Center have dug about 500 wells to supply fresh water, he said. But that is still not sufficient to provide clean drinking water for the country.
Sorm Yem, deputy director of Acape, a French NGO working in hydrology, agrees digging wells in Kampot is not the answer. “The problem with a place like Kompong Trabek is its proximity to the sea. The deeper you dig, the saltier the water,” he said.
People living in such areas, he said, should dig deep ditches to act as reservoirs when the rain begins to fall in order to build up reserves for the next dry season.
According to Seth Vannara, forecasts indicate there will be no shortage of rainfall to fill village ponds in the forthcoming rainy season.
In fact, government meteorologists are predicting typhoons, and with them, wide-scale flooding in the areas bordering the Mekong River.