24 May 2005

Drought in Cambodia

The Cambodia Daily reports that an 11th-century tree trunk, more than 100 feet long, was discovered buried in the bed of a lake which recently dried up for the first time in memory. The memory of this tree had been kept alive in legend all of this time. A local fortuneteller said that if the tree were moved to a nearby pagoda, it would encourage more rainfall.

Here's hoping. Cambodian farmers in several provinces have been hit hard by drought, and it's not like they were even a little prosperous to begin with.

The biggest danger facing them, however, is out of Cambodia's control. The World Bank recently approved a project that would dam a river in Laos that feeds the Mekong, and China is said to be planning dams that would stop the annual rise and fall of the Mekong.

This rise and fall alternately fills and empties the Tonle Sap lake. (The river that connects the lake and the Mekong changes direction twice a year.) As used to be true of the Nile, the varying water levels result in rich farmland and good breeding areas for fish. I've heard that as much as 40% of Cambodia's economy depends on the Tonle Sap.

The long-term climatic effects of this are hard to predict, but seem unlikely to help with Cambodia's water problems.

China's insatiable thirst, and Laos's dreams of selling power to the Thais, may doom Cambodia's farmers.