Drought situation in Tapon Commune
In recent years, Cambodia has been facing what experts have termed the “worst drought in decades”. The National Committee for Disaster Management estimated that 2.5 million people were directly affected in 2016. Provinces such as Battambang have historically been affected more frequently by such conditions, brought on by a late onset of the wet season, which is often also short and erratic.
In the Tapon Commune within Battambang, the villages of Boeung Tim and Svay Sa, with a population of 635 and 678 households respectively, receive between 1000mm and 1500mm of rainfall annually. Their dry season, here denoted as less than 150mm of rainfall per month, lasts approximately from November to June. To better understand the severity and impact of the drought, WISE visited the commune in June and August of 2016.
It was discovered during that trip that the Sangkae River, previously used as a water source by villagers, had been dry since 2014, and plans to restore it had not yet materialised.
In addition, the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) and the Ministry for Rural Development (MRD) had previously built 150m deep hand pump wells, but the quantity of water produced was insufficient, and the wells became out of order after a short while.
Since 2015, the population of the villages had largely relied on ponds for water, of which Boeung Tim had 40. Each between 3-5m deep, 9 in 10 of them were used to store water collected from other villages, with the remainder producing their own water from the ground. In Boeung Tim, the ponds were accessible to all households, but the quantity of water remained insufficient.
The Tapon Commune Council also owns a large pond constructed during the Khmer Rouge regime, but the canal that feeds into it is operated by a private company and often closed. During WISE’s visit, it was noted that the pond contained little water.
The Boeung Tim village chief also had been buying US$4,900 worth of fuel for two to three months in order to pump water from another village or Tonle Sap into the village, but this measure was expensive and had not been providing enough water for residents during the dry season.
With regards to the quality of water, Boeung Tim residents reportedly did not boil water before drinking all the time, and only 31% of households had ceramic filters. In previous years, river water was ingested directly, hence the quality of drinking water had likely seen slight improvements.
To understand how the drought situation had evolved since 2016, WISE conducted another expedition to the commune in March 2019.
In Svay Sor village, the drought problem has seen little improvement, with the situation during March to May being the most dire. The low rainfall as well as low water tables were causes for concern, as they had the potential to further deplete the quantity of water available for village residents. In addition, a few ponds and streams nearby were discovered to have dried up.
In Boeung Tim village, there was still a significant water shortage during the dry season. However, it was noted that due to the low relief of the area, the village would often flood during the wet season. As such, a potential mitigation measure that involved water storage during the rainy season and rehabilitating groundwater resources was identified.
Moving forward, WISE hopes to continue the assessment of Tapon commune’s needs as well as its vulnerabilities and capacities with regards to responding to drought. This includes surveying how physical aspects like rainfall, river flow, groundwater table, among others, impact water quality and quantity. A subsequent visit during the wet season to examine the capacity of the streams and to study the few existing boreholes and their water tables is also being planned.
In addition, social elements like existing knowledge on the subject, attitudes and practices and other barriers to using clean and drinking water will be studied. A study of factors such as shifts in land use, population growth and water usage patterns will also be undertaken.
WISE aims for this to culminate in an improvement in long-term access to reliable supplies of clean, potable water, and hopes to strengthen the resilience of communities within Boeung Tim and Svay Sa villages in the face of drought.