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Disaster Resilience and Water Management (DRAW) in Cambodia- Project Description

Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 14:52

File 40859

With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the DRAW project works in Kratie, Stung Treng, Oddar Meanchey, and Preah Vihear provinces.


Cambodia was identified as one of the top-10 most disaster-prone countries in the world in the UN World Risk Report 2016. Because of Cambodia’s low absorptive capacities, the country is ranked amongst the 4 most disaster vulnerable countries in Asia.

One of the reasons for Cambodia’s vulnerability is that 80% of the country lies within the Mekong river basin, with large fluctuations of water levels between dry and wet seasons. This is leading to annual cycles of floods and droughts, which studies predict will increase with climate change, damaging livelihoods and constrain development and poverty alleviation.

In terms of flood early warning Cambodia has been progressing during the recent years, credit to PIN’s efforts in supporting the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) to roll out the unique mobile phone based 1294 EWS (Early Warning System) which is by currently operational in 11 out of Cambodia’s 25 provinces. E.g. during the months of April and May 2017 more than 30,000 early warning messages have been sent out in 6 provinces alerting registered mobile phone users about storm, lightning and heavy rains. In July 2018 EWS 1294 was used in Kratie and Stung Treng to alert people about the hydro – dam breakage in Laos which led to flooding in the 2 provinces.

But particular drought is amongst the newly emerging disaster risks; during the recent El Niño drought, the lack of reliable data collection, interpretation and dissemination became apparent. In 2016 the government of Cambodia estimated that 2.5 million people were affected by severe water shortages, leading to health and nutrition problems, and economic losses that are not yet fully quantified.

Cambodia has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, given the predicted changes in temperature and precipitation, the share of labour in agriculture, and the country’s low adaptive capacity due to widespread poverty[1].  

The Cambodian economy relies to over 34% on the agricultural sector employing more than 57% of the labour force[2]. Groundwater irrigated agriculture in southern Cambodia is growing by an estimated 10% per year[3] and receding groundwater levels in parts of the country are calling for improvements in comprehensive groundwater data collection and improved Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM).

Groundwater level monitoring:

During the 2015/16 El Niño induced drought that hit Cambodia HRF members received numerous reports from various sources indicating that community drinking water wells dried out and people had to revert to unsafe drinking water sources, or buy water at high prices.

Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) has collected information of dry water points from 22 provinces and found that an estimated 18% of protected wells (including both deep-wells equipped with Afridev and shallow wells equipped with VN-6 suction pumps) and 33% of unprotected shallow wells have dried out.

In addition to precipitation and other climatic parameters, information on groundwater levels, abstraction rates and groundwater recharge are important parameters to determine drought trigger points and deliver effective early warnings.

The pressing need for a comprehensive groundwater level monitoring system for Cambodia, as highlighted by numerous reports including a recent WFP study, is being addressed by the DRAW project by setting up a number of monitoring test wells throughout Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, and developing water level monitoring procedures together with MRD and other relevant stakeholders in Cambodia, including the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MoWRAM). The process also includes consultations with JAG, HRF and the Cambodia WATSAN working group led by MRD.

Groundwater level data collected will in the long term enable Cambodian DM institutions, including MRD and MoWRAM, to make informed decisions for water resource management and future agricultural and industrial developments, including regulating abstraction rates or enhancing groundwater recharge. It must be understood that groundwater developments are a long term issue and data has to be collected over longer periods of time to understand trends. The project strives to include existing reliable historical data to already draw conclusions on groundwater dynamics in the target areas.

Drought and water resource management capacity building:

The 2015/16 El Niño drought in Cambodia has revealed the lack of capacity of the DM authorities on effective drought management, from collection and interpretation of existing drought data to coordination between the different stakeholders. After the end of the El Niño drought discussions to better prepare for future drought scenarios have started on various levels but discussions are mostly response related and few around water preservation, and improved water resources and watershed management.

The DRAW project provides training to local authorities on water resource management and interpretation of ground and surface water data. The trainings shall aim at the long term perspective including building knowledge around the main Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) principles; Social equity, economic efficiency, and ecological sustainability. The project supports the process of developing draft provincial water development plans.

Drought trigger points:

In Cambodia no reliable drought trigger points are defined that alert government and humanitarian organizations to issue early warnings or initiate response to support affected populations.

Drought can be categorized into meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socio-economic drought. All are interlinked and occur as a result of lack of precipitation, but their timely occurrence, impact and response needs differ.

As outlined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) effective drought early warning systems must integrate precipitation, ground water and other climatic parameters with water information such as river flow, groundwater levels, lake and reservoir levels. The DRAW project has defined draft drought trigger points based on information available and collected in the project target areas. The defined trigger points will be discussed with national level stakeholders including HRF, JAG and the Cambodia MRD WATSAN Working Group and government counterparts including MoWRAM. At pilot stage these trigger points will only be applicable to the pilot target provinces as drought situations differ regionally.

Public information and drought information:

The right of citizens to access public information remains impinged across most sectors and levels of Cambodian government due to a variety of factors including shortages of human and technological resources. This lack of access to information is also found in the country's DM bodies. Though national and sub-national government bodies have gradually begun to recognize the necessity of DRR, their capacities to collect and share information that could inform DRR efforts and help local authorities or individuals prepare for disasters remain limited. This lack of information sharing was particularly pronounced during the 2015-2016 drought related to the El Niño cycle. In which water wells throughout the country dried out before declining water levels were reported. In Kampong Speu e.g., where the drought was severe, various DM-related bodies – Provincial Department for Disaster Management (PCDM), Provincial Department for Agriculture (PDA), Provincial Department for Water Resources and Meteorology (PDWRAM), and MRD in particular - were collecting multiple data sets that could contribute to improved drought monitoring, such as rainfall, temperature, water levels, etc., but lacked a mechanism for sharing this information with each other and the public.

The DRAW project builds on its work under the ECHO (European Union) funded DIPECHO X and XI projects to increase sub-national authorities cooperation on drought monitoring and data dissemination e.g. through agricultural cooperatives and mobile phone systems. Under the DRAW project, PIN and AAC builds on weather information and meteorological data already collected in the target provinces e.g. by MoWRAM (supported by UNDP), with the aim to provide relevant disaster and drought information to local authorities and farmers to inform their drought preparedness efforts (Farmer report).

Early Warning Systems (EWS 1294):

In 2013, more than a million people were affected by heavy rain and flash floods across 20 Cambodian provinces, many of the same people who had been impacted by the 2011 floods. Annually, Cambodia faces increasing flooding along waterways, as evidenced by flash flooding in Kampot province in September 2015. Many of the negative impacts including a large portion of economic loss, 356.23 m USD in the 2013 Floods, could have been mitigated by better DRR measures and more effective early warning.

PIN and AAC have since 2014 jointly worked with NCDM in the roll out of the EWS 1294 mobile phone early warning system, operational in 11 provinces by now (status 11/2018), with more than 90,000 individuals signed up to receive early warning messages. Full coverage of all 25 provinces is a high priority of NCDM and envisaged to be achieved over the coming years.

The DRAW project continues to roll out the EWS 1294 system and its proven EWS trainings of PCDMs in the additional 4 target provinces. Based on the updated EWS and SOPs, NCDM and PIN works with PCDMs at every step along the way so they gain confidence in how to operate and use the EWS system.

In addition to EWS dissemination PIN is in the process of installing automated water gauge sensors on rivers throughout the targeted provinces which are prone to more flash flooding events. These systems, already piloted since 2014, enables PCDM to issue early warning messages to communities living down river should an increase in water levels be detected. The sensors are set up to regularly report water river water levels and this information will be shared publicly through the DMIS (Disaster Information Management System) and EWS dashboards.

Summary of key activities:

-       Hydrological study to determine locations for about 20 ground water level monitoring test wells;

-       Drilling of 20 test wells and installation of telemetry groundwater level monitoring (GWLM) devices;

-       Installation of rain gauges in GWLM locations;

-       Tapping into data of existing weather stations and linking them to the central data collection system.

-       Development of data base to link with DMIS;

-       Training on ground water level monitoring and data interpretation to PDRD, PCDM, PDWRAM, MAFF and other relevant stakeholders (including development of training curriculum);

-       Training on watershed management and IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management) to PDRD, PCDM, PDWRAM, MAFF and relevant stakeholders (including training curriculum development);

-       Training on Disaster Management Concepts, Disaster Preparedness including gender in Disaster Risk Reduction, introduction into Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan development

-       Development of recommendations for provincial watershed strategies, including maximum water abstraction rates for irrigation purposes depending on aquifer characteristics;

-       Development of drought trigger points for target provinces;

-       Further roll out of the EWS 1294 mobile phone early warning system (EWS 1294) in the 4 target provinces, including training to PCDM, PDWRAM and relevant stakeholders;

All activities of the project are closely coordinated with all other implementers of SDC funded projects, such as CHAIN (implemented by SNV), PAFF (implemented by WWF) and others, to achieve the highest possible impact and avoid duplications.

[1] Source: The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Cambodian Agriculture

Adaptation to Climate Change Impact, 2013

[2] Source:

[3] Journal of Hydrology (University of Stanford study) Erban, L.E., Gorelick, S.M.