Cambodia’s typical dry season brings six months with very little to no rain. In recent years, extremes of drought, flooding and unpredictable weather have increased, putting livelihoods of a country where 80% of people still rely on subsistence farming at risk. This dry season’s effects are being compounded by the fact that last year’s wet season brought less rain than usual, and the occurance of the El Nino phenomenon, which is seeing 2019 temperatures rise higher than normal, evaporating water sources faster.

Dried up irrigation ditch in March 2019

In our target area of Chi Kraeng District, Siem Reap Province, we are seeing irrigation canals, wells and ponds dry up, with villagers often having to travel further, work harder, or pay more, for water. A government advisory was issued in February 2019, requesting that farmers grow less rice than normal this year, and concentrate on other methods of farming/raising income. People even wash less often, to conserve water. When asked why so many children attending a recent malnutrition screening event were unwashed, TGF Health Programme Manager, Chea Kim, replied, “this village does not have much water, so people set different priorities for it’s use“.

Chea Son, from TGF’s Income Generation Programme, also has to plan activities accordingly; “We are having to implement our vegetable growing lessons to villagers later than usual, as to do it now would require a certain amount of water – which isn’t there. This means they cannot grow until later too”. Drought even has effects beyond growing and human consumption. “The construction of a building for the agricultural cooperative we support had to be delayed, as there was little water for concrete mixing. That’s less of a worry, but an indicator of the far reaching effects of water shortage“.

TGF Rainwater Harvesting Tank

TGF seeks to offset pressure that drought brings on families by promoting and installing Rainwater Harvesting Systems (RHS). RHS units are a safe, clean way of storing up to 2,000 litres of water, when compared to the traditional Cambodian water jars, which are open to evaporation, contaminants, and poured using an unhygienic scoop system. Jars can even be unsafe for small children, with too many cases of drownings having been reported in recent years. RHS units can be expected to serve the average household’s (5.3 people) basic needs – drinking, cooking, hygiene – for two months, are covered to prevent evaopration, and have a tap system for improved hygiene. If rainwater runs out, tanks can be refilled from local ponds, wells, or if they are dry, commercial water trucks, at a cost of three to five dollars. Rainwater Harvesting units bring water to the household, and allows families to manage water for themselves.

Sophea, in Prey Thom village, uses a TGF Rainwater Harvesting Tank for everyday use. She cares for her 6 grandchildren while their parents are in Thailand to earn more money. Caring for 6 requires a lot of water – for drinking, cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene. Sophea used carry all the water she needed from a well several hundred meters away. Now it is different. “I can just turn the tap and we have water to use for anything. It makes things a lot easier for me, and easier to mind everyone“.

Sophea, of Prey Thom village, with one of her grandchildren.

Other RHS users use them as a way of improving food security, as well as supplementing income. Leakana has had her RHS unit for almost two years now. “I am able to grow a lot of bananas with water from my tank, which we are able to eat and sell. Before, we would have to get buckets of water to feed the trees, which just wouldn’t do. It’s just me and my niece living here, so even keeping a few banana trees makes a difference for us“.

Leakana, who has trouble walking due a childhood accident, has to find sources of income close to or in her home.

With the hottest weather yet to come, we are hoping that water sources remain intact, and that families and communities are not set back by the current drought. 2016’s drought was described by government as “the country’s worst natural disaster in a hundred years” – we hope that if this dry season comes close to that, the more than four hundred RHS units we have installed can go some way towards helping communities overcome it.

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