Low Flows in Mekong Blamed for Lack of Clean Water in Phnom Penh

No clean water in Phnom Penh due to low Mekong River flows
A woman washes her hands with tap water provided by state-owned utility Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, in the capital’s Daun Penh district on Tuesday. (Photo: Heng Chivoan).

Phnom Penh is suffering from a lack of clean water, with low water flows in the Mekong River to blame, according to a senior official.

Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) director-general Long Naro said at a press conference on 1 March that record-low levels of water in the Mekong River in the last five years have been identified as one of the main causes of the clean water shortages, according to Phnom Penh Post.

He said that water levels had dropped one meter below ordinary levels.

According to the PPWSA, water levels must reach 3 meters during the dry season in order for water to be pumped into treatment facilities, before being supplied to households.

Authorities say the water level in the Mekong now stands at just two meters.

Mr. Long also said that there is currently a shortage of between 1,000 to 2,000 cubic meters of water which would ordinarily be pumped into the treatment facility every hour to ensure a consistent supply of running water.

However, several new clean water facilities to service the city are now under construction, meaning the city should have enough running water starting 2023.

Running water faces shortages in the dry season from January to May each year, and is sometimes completely lacking in western Phnom Penh, according to reports.

Mr. Long said that “Cambodians use a lot of water – up to 200 to 280 liters per day on average, while the global average use is only around 150 liters per day.”

The Mekong River Commission called on Mekong countries early this year to urgently discuss record low flows recorded over the last three years.

During the last three years, flows in the Mekong mainstream have dropped to their lowest levels in more than 60 years, with 2020 being the LMB’s driest year when rainfall was below normal levels in every month except October, according to an MRC report.

“Together, these factors may have adversely affected fisheries and agriculture outputs, pressured the Delta people’s livelihoods, and threatened to disturb the Mekong Basin’s delicate ecosystems. Proactive cooperation is essential, not just from China but from all the MRC Member Countries, to jointly address these issues,” said Dr. An Pich Hatda, former Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat.

But the six countries can take some immediate steps to mitigate the crisis, according to Dr. Hatda.

These include establishing a joint notification mechanism on unusual water level fluctuations, and in the future, exploring the coordinated operation management of reservoirs and hydropower dams.

In addition, the countries should examine options to build more storage to manage pressing drought and flood conditions, as well as an operational model for the whole Mekong Basin.