Have you noticed that the level of water in Cambodia is currently very low? This year, rains did not come until August, when a series of violent storms led thousands of people to be evacuated. Now, the Mekong River reached its lowest level ever.

The effects of climate change are getting more and more obvious and hard to miss. Indeed, Cambodia is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. 

The cycle of water

Fun fact: water endlessly renews itself. And at the same time, new water is created every day. Let’s see how it works:
Water cycle: how does it work?
Water cycle: how does it work?

“The water cycle describes how water evaporates from the surface of the earth, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow in clouds, and falls again to the surface as precipitation. The water falling on land collects in rivers and lakes, soil, and porous layers of rock, and much of it flows back into the oceans, where it will once more evaporate.” NASA

We can see here the mutual dependances of all natural elements. Here, plants, and especially trees and forests are essential in the cycle of water, as it is their perspiration that creates clouds, thus rain. So if a country cuts its trees, and decimates its forests, it means it is going to lack rain in the future. And here we are. Indeed, between 2000 and 2017, the nature reserve of Prey Lang lost 10% of its trees, partly to wood trafficking. Cambodia was the country with the highest deforestation rate between 2000 and 2014.

This year, it did not rain so much in Cambodia, and now the water level of its rivers is low. Which will lead to even less evaporation, thus even less rain. See how it works? The water virtuous cycle can quickly turn into a vicious circle.

What are the risks of such lack of water?

Let’s remember that the Tonlé Sap is the largest body of freshwater in South East Asia. It shelters douzens of endangered species, and its fisheries are one of the largest and most biodiverse of the world.
So the risks are several. For biodiversity first, consequences are heavy and immediate. Indeed, the Tonlé Sap is one of the first affected when water tends to lack. Because it gets most of its water from the rivers, which are running low on water themselves… Well, you see where it leads. So a drought of the Tonlé Sap leads to less oxygen and space for fish to thrive. It thereby impoverishes the dense biodiversity the Tonle Sap shelters, and resonates on the populations inhabiting the area.
Sunset on the Tonle Sap
Sunset on the Tonle Sap

Climate change is going to impact Cambodia’s whole economy.

Indeed, fishing is the Tonle Sap area’s main source of income.

60 % of the country’s fish consumption come from the Tonle Sap, and this sector represents 7% of the national GDP. Nowadays, fishers observe a decrease of 70% off their fish catches.

Moreover, 85% of Cambodians rely on agriculture to live, and the changes of the country’s climate lead to more droughts and/or more floods.

The impact is especially harsh on rice production.

Rice fields need to be constantly under water until the rice is ripe and can be harvested. Actually, it takes 4.000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of rice. According to the Committees of Disaster Management, up to now the drought harmed more than 20.000 hectares of rice fields, in 13 provinces.

Lack of water is going to harm rural populations the most

Currently, already almost 4 million people (1 on 4) lack access to safe water in Cambodia. A water crisis will undoubtedly lead to more people lacking this basic human need, and right. And people in rural areas will be the first to suffer such crisis, mostly because they often do not enjoy running water.

A few tips to preserve water

It will never be said enough: every gesture counts. In this case, every litre of water you can save counts!
So what can we do at an individual scale to reduce as much as possible the consequences of this kind of crisis?

Consume less

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Take shorter showers: an average shower uses about 20 litres of water per minute. Shorten your shower by 2 minutes, and you will cut your water use by 40 liters. You can also turn the water off while soaping.

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Switch the water off when you brush your teeth and wash your hands.
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Do not over-wash cars and motorcycles.
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Water your plants responsibly. If you need to water them, do it in the evening, when temperatures are cooler. It will prevent water from instantly evaporating, so your plants will really absorb it and thrive.

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You can already prepare for next rain season and install a device to harvest rainwater. Collect it in a barrel linked to your downspout, or in a tank either on your roof or in your garden.

Fun tip

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Put a bottle filled with sand in your toilet’s water tank so that it does not float. Did you know there is too much water in a normal toilet tank? The water bottle will lower its quantity and still make you use enough water to flush it all away.

Last but not least, here is how much water your everyday items need to be produced.

Beef meat: 15.000 litres/kg

Chicken meat: 4.000 litres/kg

Tofu: 1.500 litres/kg

Avocado: 2.000 litres/kg

Tomato: 160 litres/kg

One pair of jeans: 7.000 litres

One cotton t-shirt: 2.700 litres

(Numbers from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers – IME)

Knowledge is power… And now you know. So use your power to make better consumption choices. We hope Consume less, consume better will become your motto!

Thank you for reading this article! Did you like it? Do you already take actions to reduce your water use? Tell us everything in the comment section below!

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