Food and Water Supplies in Cambodia Essay

Food and Water Supplies in Cambodia

Several improvements have occurred in Cambodia since the years 1980 and 1996 in the field of agriculture, livestock production and overall food production. (ADPC) Continuing progress is achieved between years 2000 to 2005. (WFP) Nevertheless, according to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, “Cambodia remains a very poor country, and many of its people still suffer from food insecurity”. (ADPC)  Beyond one-third of all households, do “fall below poverty line”. (FOCUS) On the average, food intakes do not meet minimum daily requirements and Cambodians continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition. (WFP; ADPC) Year 2005 data show that national levels of child mortality and malnutrition remain high in Cambodia as compared to neighboring countries. (WFP) The lack of diversity of diet, where 80% of calorie intake comes only from rice, consequently lead to malnutrition. (FOCUS) Cambodian communities are highly rice dependent where more than 80% of households being fully engaged in rice farming, with highest dependence occurring in rural areas; and thereby, allowing limited income earning opportunities. (ADPC)

As mentioned above, the livelihoods of general Cambodian population mostly depend on agricultural production. (ADPC)  However, since Cambodia is “one of the most disaster prone countries in South East Asia; there exist high risks for flash floods, central area floods and droughts; all of which have drastic effects on crop production. (WFP; ADPC) When calamities strike; hunger, poverty and even deaths result. (ADPC)

Other factors affecting land use include mining which have negative impacts on socioeconomic structure. Long term effects of war and civil strife destroyed the country’s irrigation systems. Since the peace settlement in 1979, however, increasing areas of land have been cultivated and overall improvement of crop farming and livestock productions have ensued for national utility and international export. (FOCUS)  Destructive logging practices and overgrazing have also resulted to quality-poor soil and water resources due to erosion processes and salinization processes which may be irreversible. (Hines, 1998) These destructive processes, in turn, affect the availability and quality of food resources and the overall environment.

As a whole, primary problems of food supply associated with agriculture and farming include limited cultivatable lands; lack of resources for agriculture such as water, tools and seeds; low yield; lack of crop diversity; decreased livestock production; and destruction of agricultural lands due to natural and man-made disasters. (Hines, 1998; WFP) Nonetheless, other problems of food supply are related to accessibility to resources. According to the World Food Programme, rural people are also “dependent on buying food on the market for some types of needs and for some period every year”. The “purchasing power” is limited due to lack of assets that may be converted to cash income, thus, food security can be achieved through improving income resources or livelihood opportunities, in addition to income generated from agriculture. (WFP; Hines, 1998)

Proposed programs to improve food and water supply

            The first program would be to increase diversification of farming in Cambodia. Budget and resources would be provided by an external source, at first. The program would include communities grouped into several different agricultural groups. Each group will be farming a different crop with the appropriate farming technique. The assigned groups would be rotated from time to time; allowing them to share the learning experience. Advantages would include: education and training of participants on the various crops and farming techniques; increase variety of yield which generate income upon local or international trade; environment would benefit by allowing diversity and preventing soil ‘exhaustion’; successful crops can be permanently integrated into their agricultural production. Disadvantages include: wasted resources when a particular crop or technique is not feasible in Cambodia; and partial participation or loss of interest since impacts are rather long-term than immediately realized and because of unfamiliarity with use of introduced crops.

            The second program could be environmental rehabilitation. The natural environment shall undergo restoration through planting of trees; cleaning of contaminated bodies of water; soil rehabilitation through use of organic fertilizer or allowing re-growth of naturally-occurring plants; repair of sewage systems and water irrigation systems; and, relocation of crowded communities. Advantages include long-term benefits of the improvement of the environment that would increase crop yield and result to better overall situation of agriculture, economic and health standards. Disadvantages include: an economic ‘back-log’ experienced by residents since unproductive agricultural lands shall be rehabilitated and thus crops cannot be harvested for a certain time leading to further hunger; also cooperation may be minimal due to lack of education or comprehension of the long-term benefits.

            The third program would be import of genetically-modified crops that are drought resistant or nutritionally-supplemented, to be grown in Cambodia. Advantages include: immediate increase in crop production and available food supply that would answer to hunger problems, malnutrition, and income problems. Disadvantage could be the result to dependence to foreign support; increase cost of production; exposure to the debated health risks and environment harms of genetically-modified crops; also, the lack of infrastructure to support increased harvests would also lead to economic pressures and waste of resources.

            Of the three programs presented, the first one may be most feasible. The program would also contribute to environmental rehabilitation, in the long run. Malnutrition problem will also be addressed since other nutrient containing crops, fruits and vegetables are available for consumption. The crops planted and harvested are more natural and cost-efficient. Livestock production is also enhanced. Furthermore, the program poses more chances to become successful when augmented with proper education.

Water supply is scarce in Cambodia. Misuse of water includes (1) contamination of bodies of water including drinking water due to improper disposal of sewage water and waste water; thus, water are no longer fit for use; and, (2) distribution systems are insufficient since most pipes are either cracked or pumping system is inefficient; thus continuous delivery of the needed water supply to households or agricultural lands, have not been promising. (Ung)

In the year 1994, studies show that very few Cambodians, only around 13%, had access to safe water supplies. More recently, data suggest that safe water access has increased to 31% for rural areas. (HOPE) However, this development is still unsatisfactory. Furthermore, only one NGO, known as HOPE International Development Agency, is working to increase rural access to safe water; thus, much work still needs to be done. (HOPE) The importance of safe, clean and reliable source of water cannot be overemphasized. Safe water supplies have implications on man’s well-being which shall include “health, life expectancy, food security, educational opportunities and incomes”. (HOPE)

To help improve water supply in Cambodia, RDI have proposed ways to harvest rain water for storage and use. This method may be very helpful for various communities. The “Earth Tank”” system, which collects rain water from rooftops of houses into gutters and pipes; towards a clay tank which is sealed and leads to a filtration system. (RDI-Cambodia)

If all houses and establishments would have this system of collecting water installed with the help of an external aid or donation for storage and future use; this would certainly help during dry seasons by improvement of water supply. Furthermore, education must be provided so that residents will learn to preserve the water quality in the bodies of water in the community by proper solid and water waste disposal.


Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC). (n.d.). Mapping Vulnerability to Natural Disasters in Cambodia. VAT Asia Case Study 5. Retrieved May 10, 2007, from

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOCUS). (n.d.). Cambodia – reaping the dividends of peace. Retrieved May 11, 2007, from FOCUS/E/SOFI/dcc-e.htm.

Hines, Deborah. (1998). Improving Food Security in Marginal, low-potential areas. Retrieved May 11, 2007, from FAAD_English/faaq1_538e98.html.

HOPE International Development Agency. (n.d.). Water Project in Pursat, Cambodia. Retrieved May 11, 2007, from assetmanager/asset/Cambodia_Water_EN.pdf.

Resource Developement International – Cambodia. (n.d.). Water Projects: Rainwater Harvesting. Retrieved May 10, 2007, from waterrainwatercollection.htm.

Ung, Phyrun. (n.d.). The Environmental Situation in Cambodia Policy and Instructions. Retrieved May 11, 2007, from html/phy_cam.htm.

World Food Programme (WFP). (n.d.). Food Insecurity in Cambodia at a Glance. Retrieved May 10, 2007, from lang=e&PHPSESSID=2d46f821db57f6eb070f294899ac8603.