Community-managed water resources help mitigate the impacts of severe drought in Cambodia
Cambodia is experiencing its worst drought in over 50 years. In Koh Kong province, where CARE has worked for many years, it has barely rained since late 2015 and water supplies are scarce, particularly where seawater inundation is contaminating water sources. A recent assessment found that many people report they don’t have enough water to drink, stay clean, water their crops or keep their livestock hydrated. As a result, many households are spending their hard-earned money on shipping in water for their families.
But this is not the case for Yoeurn, a demonstration farmer and Village Animal Health Worker who has worked with CARE for many years. She is also part of the Water User Committee which maintains a community well built by CARE in 2011. Although water levels are low, this well is still functioning and is providing water for around 30 households.
“I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of water in the well this April because of the drought, but we are still able to use this for drinking and for some of our agricultural needs,” said Yoeurn in early May. “Some of those who use the well are my neighbours and others come from the neighbouring village. It is good we have this well and it still has water because we have not yet had to spend money on purchasing water.”
The well in Yoeurn’s community is now five years old but is still in good repair because the Water User Committee has ensured this is well maintained. “I am responsible for monitoring the status of the well,” Yoeurn explains. “I make sure children don’t play on the pump and damage it. If there is a problem, I inform the chairperson immediately so this can be fixed.” The committee collects a fee of 1000 riel (USD$0.25) per month from the families using it to cover the cost of repairs when needed.
Yoeurn says that if the well was not functioning she would have to buy from others. She would have to spend around 50,000riel (USD$12.50) per day to have enough water for her household of seven people and to water her vegetable garden. These vegetables are important to her family’s income, supplying her sister’s noodle shop and also feeding the pigs Yoeurn raises. Running out of water would have a huge impact on Yoeurn’s life—something which is unfortunately the reality for many others in the province.
“I am worried about what will happen if the drought continues for much longer,” Yoeurn confides. “More people from neighbouring villages are using this for more of their needs and if we don’t get rain in May I am worried there will not be enough water to meet the demand.
“The drought and hot temperatures are affecting people in many ways. Nowadays there are many diseases on cattle and chickens. People’s health is being affected too because it is hard to get clean water; I have observed increased cases of diarrhoea among children because there is not good hygiene and sanitation.”
In many ways Yoeurn’s story is one of success, showing how community-managed resources like this well can help them to be more resilient to disasters. Yoeurn’s immediate neighbours are still able to thrive at a time when others are now looking to government and NGOs for support to meet their basic needs. However, her observations illustrate that investing in supporting community resilience to natural disasters is vital in a climate of extreme weather events.
In response to the severe drought affecting much of Cambodia, CARE Cambodia and People in Need (PIN) responded to support communities in the province of Koh Kong. The response included distribution of water tanks and water filters to particularly vulnerable households in the most affected areas.
 Conducted by CARE, People in Need and Save the Children in April 2016.