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Water or food? Pregnancy challenges during Cambodia’s worst drought in decades

Imagine being pregnant but having to choose between eating enough food and drinking enough water. For the last month this has been the reality for Vann, 24, a young woman from Koh Kong in Cambodia.

Vann is currently five months pregnant with her second child. The well in their community has been dry since the beginning of April, so Vann’s family of three has had no water at all for their home. The solution has been to buy water from private suppliers, costing them USD$5 every few days. For a family dependent on fishing for income, this has been a huge expense—Vann estimates they have spent around USD$75 so far on buying water.

“It has become very difficult,” she says. “We have had to limit how much we spend on food because so much of our money is going towards water. Compared to before, I now eat less. I have noticed I am much more tired than before as I am not eating much.”

This lack of food is impacting Vann’s health in many ways. It is not just her energy which has suffered but also her nutrition—crucial for keeping her baby healthy.

“Food prices have increased: meat, fish and some vegetables are all more expensive now. I used to eat more variety but now we cannot afford this so our meals are very limited.” Vann has also found this difficult as she deals with the symptoms of her pregnancy. She cannot choose foods which she is craving but just has to eat whatever the family can afford.

The extreme heat—over 40°C for a number of weeks—has also increased Vann’s discomfort during her pregnancy. However, she has not been able to wash as often as she would like because water is at such a premium. She has resorted to using the dirty water after doing laundry to bathe and cool herself down. “My husband encourages me to do what I need to feel better, but it is hard when we have such limited options. I hope to deliver my baby at the health centre but at the moment we just have to focus on our immediate needs.”

CARE, with partner People in Need, has been responding to this drought by distributing and filling water tanks to households such as Vann’s where it will make the most difference. She has received three containers with a total of 600l of water. “I am very happy as we will now be able to save our money and not have to spend this just to have enough to drink,” she shares. “I look forward to being able to spend this money on food again so that I can eat better from now on. We aim to collect water in these tanks when the rains come so hopefully we can have enough spare money to save for when the baby comes.”

In response to the severe drought affecting much of Cambodia, CARE Cambodia and partner 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.

Read more stories from CARE's drought response >

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