UN, Asean: Drought in region may intensify

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Drought has hit many rural provinces in the Kingdom hard this year. CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM/REUTERS/THE STRAITS TIMES

Drought in many parts of Southeast Asia may become even more frequent and intense if action is not taken now to build resilience, according to the latest joint study by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) released on Wednesday.

Escap released the study titled Ready for the Dry Years: Building Resilience to Drought in South-East Asia during the 34th Meeting of the Asean Committee on Disaster Management.

It offers clear analysis on the principal risks in the region and was released against the backdrop of the ongoing drought in almost all countries in Southeast Asia, with social and economic impacts already being felt strongly in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

As reported by the study, the cumulative impacts of drought in the region strike hardest at the poor and heighten inequality, as well as degrade land and increase the prospect of violent conflict.

Droughts can also be particularly damaging in countries where many people rely on agriculture for primary employment.

Currently 61 per cent of people in Lao PDR, 41 per cent in Vietnam, 31 per cent in Indonesia, 27 per cent in Cambodia and 26 per cent in the Philippines live under these circumstances.

Over the past 30 years, droughts have affected over 66 million people in the region.

However, due to their slow onset, droughts are often under-reported and under-monitored, resulting in conservative estimates on their impact in the region.

The study points out that the future could be even worse. With climate change, many more areas are likely to experience extreme conditions with severe consequences.

“More dry years are inevitable, but more suffering is not. Timely interventions now can reduce the impacts of drought, protect the poorest communities and foster more harmonious societies,” said UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of Escap Armida Alisjahbana.

The report proposes three priority areas of intervention for Escap and Asean. These include strengthening drought risk assessment and early warning services, fostering risk financing instruments that can insure communities against slow onset droughts, and lastly enhancing people’s capacities to adapt to drought.

National Committee for Disaster Management spokesman Keo Vy said that drought has always impacted

Cambodia, including in terms of water shortages, agricultural production and the health of citizens.

He added that government measures to help ease the impact of drought have focused on building irrigation systems, reservoirs and dams to retain water in times of need.

Hean Vanhorn, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said drought has hit Cambodia’s agricultural sector hard in recent years, pushing the government to promote the use of drought resistant seeds for farmers.

“For rice seeds or crop seeds, we make them endure areas that frequently face drought, and for areas facing flooding, we choose any seeds that can endure flooding for a long time such as those that take one week before they are damaged.

“There is another seed that can endure up to two weeks before being damaged which we are studying,” he said.

Drought continues to prove a major problem in the Kingdom as the country suffered the ill effects of an unusually hot and dry period in the first four months of this year as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

In February, local communities in rural areas across the Kingdom expressed grave concerns over the severe lack of water for their daily consumption amid a prolonged drought that caused streams, creeks, lakes and ponds to gradually dry up.

Low water levels in reservoirs have also resulted in electricity shortages hitting the country, leading to widespread blackouts.