Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Private water raiding threatens Angkor's temples built on sand

From today's guardian.co.uk:
"Unchecked development, and the widespread, unregulated pumping of groundwater throughout Siem Reap city, has raised concerns that the temples, including the world's largest religious monument, Angkor Wat, could crack or crumble if too much water is drained away."

Funny, I was just talking to my landlord about this. He says the water table in Siem Reap is being destroyed by the big hotels. (I was told by one contractor that a 5 star hotel in Siem Reap is pumping water from a well that is 150m deep).

This photo shows how low the water is, at the Siem Reap river. The river runs through the town. This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, during the current rainy season.

The water level is low because, my landlord tells me, the water is being diverted to Baray area ("baray" means reservoir in Khmer) for the farmers. I have no idea if this is true.  (Contrast this with last year's floods).

In the Guardian article, Peou Hang, deputy director of water management for the Cambodian government's Angkor conservation body (Apsara), was quoted as saying the pumping was unregulated, and almost impossible to police.

"We cannot [find out] ... the exact quantity they extract every day. I ask them, but they do not want to answer our questions, so we have to make an estimation."

But why is it so difficult to tabulate just how much water the city is using? Why can't each hotel/household be forced to install a meter? I wasn't sure if you can measure water usage from a well (as opposed to piped city water), but a quick google check tells me that you can.

This article from Oregonstate.edu shows you how:

"Groundwater is an important resource in Oregon. As more people depend on groundwater, some water tables around the State are dropping, threatening their water supplies. State law requires that groundwater be managed as a renewable resource, and that water tables do not drop permanently.

To assess the size of the groundwater resource and monitor the effects of development and drought, State law requires an aquifer test on every well with a water right. Part of that test is to measure the depth of water in the well. We'll discuss three methods of measuring water levels in this publication."

This being Cambodia, Mr Poeu's point about it being difficult to police stands true--with or without the meters. After all, this is a country where policemen are paid a pitiful salary--around US$40, I was told.

At the very least, though, the big hotels in Siem Reap should be made accountable, as they consume and waste huge amounts of water. Here are figures from another popular holiday destination, Goa: "In terms of water requirement, low-budget hotels needed 573 litres per room per day. Luxury hotels, in contrast, needed 1,335 litres per room per day (or 2.33 times), as they have huge landscaped areas, swimming pools, two or three restaurants, and other facilities." (see choike.org).

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