Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

World Bank Approves $145 Million To Relieve Water Crisis For Farmers in Cambodia

Farmers set up water pumps along a canal to wait for water to be released from upstream to sustain their dryland paddy rice in Pursat province, January 2024. (CamboJA/Uon Chhin)
Farmers set up water pumps along a canal to wait for water to be released from upstream to sustain their dryland paddy rice in Pursat province, January 2024. (CamboJA/Uon Chhin)

The World Bank approved $145 million credit by the International Development Association to fund the Water Security Improvement Project which would help relieve water shortages during dry season and dryland rice farming. The project also aims to raise agricultural productivity and build resilience to climate risks.

The project, which will benefit more than 113,000 people, will be implemented over five years by the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

The latest credit comes on the heels of a $275 million loan to support Cambodia’s long-term economic growth and resilience, $40 million for skills training and $79.5 million to enhance education quality and access in Cambodia.

Cambodia would be able to move toward sustainable water security and greater agricultural productivity, thanks to the project, Maryam Salim, World Bank country manager for Cambodia, said. “Investing now in climate resilience, planning and better infrastructure not only addresses the immediate water needs of Cambodian farmers and households, but also lays the groundwork for long-term water service delivery.”

Water resource management by expanding hydrometeorological stations, updating policies and regulations, preparing climate-informed river basin management plans, and strengthening the performance of central and provincial water authorities would be undertaken in the project.

Although Cambodia has abundant water, seasonal and regional differences in rainfall affect urban and rural water supply, the World Bank said.

Climate projections suggest that flooding and drought would become “more frequent and severe”, placing more strain on the country’s capacity to manage its freshwater resources. This would affect food production and economic growth.

As part of the project, water supply systems for households and irrigation would be rehabilitated and upgraded, with “farmer water user communities” trained and given technical assistance to improve operation and maintain infrastructure, the bank said. 

Khim Finan, MAFF spokesperson, declined to comment and referred questions to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MoWRAM). 

Chan Youttha, MoWRAM spokesperson, did not respond to questions. 

Earlier this year, many farmers faced problems finding sufficient water to irrigate their dryland rice fields. Up to 760,000 hectares of dryland rice was cultivated in several provinces but irrigating them became an issue. 

Last month, MAFF, MoWRAM and the Ministry of Rural Development discussed problems and solutions, amid a water crisis. During the meeting, MoWRAM said they would work with MAFF to solve farmers’ water problems by developing an irrigation system in geographically water-scarce and flood areas.

Heam Khuon, deputy provincial governor of Pursat province, told CamboJA News that he has not received any information regarding the new investment for the water security project. However, he expects the project to address water shortages in Pursat province.

“The department [of water] has also submitted a request to MoWRAM to review the state budget [to solve water shortages], so I expect this budget will help resolve the water problem for more farmers,” Khuon said. 

In the past, water shortage was very acute. “Last year, there were serious problems, and it continued until May, when it rained,” he added.

Since the provincial administration already planned to build a big reservoir, and if it receives any budget, it will build additional canals to distribute water to farmers. 

Sem Chamnan, a representative of the Sre Prang Community, said he was “excited” to hear about the project because it would help farmers who were “victims”.

“During the dry season, farmers cultivated cassava and rice, but it didn’t grow. They had to be planted for a second time or even more,” he said, adding that during dry seasons, it was hard to do farming because of water shortages.

His community relied heavily on water, including well water, for farming every dry season. But last year was particularly difficult because the cassava tubers rotted and cashew output was small. “For example, we usually harvested 80% or 90%, but last year, we only harvested 50% to 60%. For one hectare of land, farmers would be able to get one or two tons [of produce] but last year we lost about half,” he said.

Chamnan does not expect to receive any help but would be happy if his community was assisted. “For projects involving water supply to the local farmers, they need a mentor to share the information, so they can enjoy the benefits. Then I think it is good,” he added.

In the past, the government aided flood victims by giving crops but they did not give to people with land concerns, Chamnan remarked. Instead, they donated to who they wanted to. “So, I don’t expect my community to receive it, but if the government changes their mind, I will be overjoyed.”

Another farmer, Tha Lida, provincial committee member of the Sre Prang community, said farmers constantly have problems with water and insects. 

Water shortages ruin their crops all the time so the farmers do not produce as much as expected. It is compounded by insects harming the crops, causing local farmers to rely on loans from microfinance and private banks.

People did not have enough resources because they were “wiped out” and later discriminated against because they used to have land and problems. This reason made those who have power accuse them of being opposition party supporters or anti-government. Thus, they are overlooked when there are sponsors or funds from the government.