Drought warning leads Cambodian government to tell rice farmers not to plant

Water shortages have been reported in 16 Cambodian provinces. El Niño is behind higher-than-average temperatures. About 75 per cent of Cambodia is farmland, devoted mostly to growing rice. The authorities hand out fertiliser and water to affected communities.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Cambodian rice farmers should refrain from planting crops because of a drought and record high temperatures. The cause is this year’s El Nino with temperatures expected to peak in April and May, warned Neth Pheaktra, spokesman and secretary of state for the Cambodian Environment Ministry.

Communities in 16 provinces around the Kingdom have reported water shortages due to higher than average temperatures – a stark reality in a nation more used to dealing with floods than droughts.

A tributary of the Tonle Sap River in Kampong Thom province has dried out. As a result, a local rice farmer said he had been relying on eating lotus roots to survive.

About 75 per cent of the country’s farmland is devoted to growing rice. Cambodia exports about three per cent of the world’s supply, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Pheaktra said his office, in conjunction with the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, has been distributing fertiliser and water to communities hit by drought.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC), which  manages the river and its  sustainable development along with its member states (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), said that it was ready to help Cambodia.

Temperatures in Cambodia will reach 40-42 Celsius between April and May this year, said Pheaktra. “Higher temperatures associated with El Nino can lead to forest fires and water shortages,” he added.

Despite heightened concerns, climatologists do not expect this year's drought to be as bad as the one that hit the country in 2016.

Speaking about the latter, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called it was “the worst natural disaster to hit Cambodia in 100 years”.