Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Groundwater shortage could jeopardise 1.5 million farmers: study

Groundwater shortage could jeopardise 1.5 million farmers: study

A Kandal farmer irrigates his rice paddies in 2014 before planting a new crop. A study has revealed that farmers in the Kingdom may be left unable to water crops within 15 years.
A Kandal farmer irrigates his rice paddies in 2014 before planting a new crop. A study has revealed that farmers in the Kingdom may be left unable to water crops within 15 years. Pha Lina

Groundwater shortage could jeopardise 1.5 million farmers: study

Amid late-arriving rains and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, groundwater supplies are shrinking, a fact that could leave 1.5 million Cambodian farmers unable to water their crops within 15 years, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Hydrology.

The study by Laura Erban and Steven Gorelick of the department of earth system science at Stanford University found that a growing reliance on groundwater use – which has grown by 10 per cent annually in recent years – may drop the water table below the “lift limit” of suction pump wells.

“Extensive groundwater irrigation jeopardises access for shallow domestic water supply wells, raises the costs of pumping for all groundwater users, and may exacerbate arsenic contamination and land subsidence that are already widespread hazards in the region,” the study authors wrote.

Even if the Kingdom starts drawing more irrigation water from rivers and lakes, its options are limited, the study found.

At the moment, 96 per cent of rice fields are left fallow in the dry season, due to lack of irrigation.

Expanding irrigation networks to allow countrywide dry season rice production would require a volume of water equal to 31 per cent of dry season Mekong River flow to Vietnam.

Vietnamese media has repeatedly warned about a shortage of fresh water entering the country in recent months, partly due to the El Niño weather cycle, long-term climate change, and dams and water diversions by upstream countries. Recently, Thailand began diverting 47 million cubic metres of Mekong water for its own irrigation projects, a number expected to grow.

Bun Hean, secretary of state at Cambodia’s Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, confirmed that groundwater depletion was an issue in parts of Cambodia, especially in Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces.

He said that the water table in those areas dropped to low levels typically for three months during the dry seasons. However, he could not confirm how many farmers this pattern threatened.

Hean said that groundwater use was the work of individual farmers. Government irrigation projects relied on water from the Mekong and the Tonle Sap lake.

The government was looking to develop 20 major agricultural reservoirs in the Tonle Sap region, though Hean could not give a target completion date.

Ian Thomas, an adviser with the Mekong River Commission, said that groundwater depletion was worst in areas that didn’t get recharged by Mekong or Tonle Sap floods.

The Tonle Sap didn’t flood last year due to El Niño and lack of typhoons entering Cambodia, which exacerbated the shortages, according to Hean.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration