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Prepared by

Theng Tara 
Director, Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation
Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology

in cooperation with

Le Huu Ti
Economic Affairs Officer
Water Resources Section
Environment and Sustainable Development Division
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific


Thierry Facon
Senior Water Management Officer
Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


As a riparian state in the Mekong river basin and an active participant in the work of the Mekong
River Commission, Cambodia has strong international linkages in the water sector. Water is
a central aspect of Cambodian life. Cambodia covers an area of about 181 000 km2 , 86 percent of which is located in the Mekong river basin. The nation's water resources are therefore dominated by the Mekong and Tonlé Sap system, and by the annual cycle of monsoonal flood and dry seasons. Water contributes to national life in several subsectors, and is of particular importance with regard to its potentials for domestic water supply, irrigated agriculture, freshwater fisheries, hydropower, navigation and ecotourism. Several laws provide the legal framework for water resources management. About ten central government agencies have major roles in water resources affairs. The provincial governments are increasingly significant, particularly through the provincial rural development committees, and
a process of devolution is transferring responsibility to commune councils, village development committees and other community organizations such as the farmer water user communities.

Cambodia faces many water-related issues, which can be grouped as follows:

To address them, a National Strategic Framework for the Water Sector and a National Water Resources Strategy have been prepared. Implementation will depend on actors from the central level, such the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM) and other ministries, through to the smallest water point committees and individual householders. Cambodia is making very satisfactory progress towards an effective strategy for water resources management, bearing in mind the serious lack of capacity caused by years of civil strife. The development of the strategic approach has been made in the context of the national development goals and policy objectives enunciated in the Royal Government's socio-economic development requirements and proposals and the Public Investment Programme. In this process, led by line ministries, including MOWRAM, and in successive consultations with stakeholders, commonly using seminars and workshops, the country has been able to develop a Law on Water Resources Management, a National Water Sector Profile (including an “agenda for action”), a National Water Resources Policy, and a National Water Resources Strategy. A Vision for Water is being developed also and the draft Vision for Water in Cambodia includes the following objectives:

On the basis of the above achievements, a national round-table workshop was organized by MOWRAM in cooperation with UNESCAP and FAO in January 2003 to formulate a national water vision to action programme. The workshop recognized the importance of the national water vision as a guide for integrated water resources management and recommended various priority actions in four priority areas: (1) Poverty reduction and rural development; (2) economic development and nature conservation;
(3) pilot basin management for the Prek Thnot river basin; and (4) the establishment of a framework to turn the national water vision into reality. The workshop also recommended a dual approach for the realization of the national water vision — an overall approach to be coordinated by MOWRAM to provide an effective and comprehensive framework to turn the national water vision into reality, and
a sector-by-sector approach to assist the related subsector agencies in the implementation of priority activities related to the above four priority areas.


After many years of isolation, Cambodia is pursuing opportunities to engage with the interna­tion­al
community in a number of areas. The kingdom has become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN), and is working towards accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). These and other moves contribute to one of the three elements of the government's “Triangle Strategy” for national reconstruction.

Water resources management is an area in which Cambodia has no choice over international linkages. The kingdom shares the Mekong river basin with five other countries — Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Thailand, Myanmar and China — and 86 percent of its own land area lies within the Mekong basin. In 1995, it became a signatory to the Agreement on the cooperation for the sustainable development of the Mekong river basin, which established the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and it participates in the work of the commission.

It is in this spirit that Cambodia approaches the World Water Vision process. The nation must adopt
a strategic approach to managing water, because water is one of its most important resources. Since 1998 in particular, it has taken a number of important steps to do this. An element of one of these steps — preparation of a national water resources policy — has been to enunciate a national vision for water. Cambodia is pleased to be working with the wider international community in this activity.

1.1 Background: The World Water Vision process

The World Water Council initiated the World Water Vision project and in 1998 established the World Commission for Water for the 21st Century. The commission prepared a long-term vision on water, life and the environment which provides a basis for addressing water-related issues at global, regional and national levels. The project to develop a world water vision used a participatory process characterized by extensive consultation and innovative thinking and brainstorming. It was global in scope, with special attention given to the needs of developing countries and of the poor. The process has used two types of consultation, by sector and by region. Sector and regional visions were prepared as contributions to the overall World Water Vision, which describe the desired future and the actions needed to achieve sustainable water resources management.

Sector consultation recognizes that there are several water-related subsectors, but that they are necessary parts of an integrated approach to water management. Twelve subsectors are considered in the process; the four main ones are “water for people”, “water for food and rural development”, “water and nature” and “water in rivers”. These subsectors are very relevant given Cambodia's particular reliance on water.

Regional visions for water were developed, because in practice water is managed at a sub-global scale. This is most obviously the case in large international river basins such as the Mekong. There have been 22 regional consultations — including one in Southeast Asia — which were conducted in close collaboration with the regional technical advisory committees of the Global Water Partnership and the International Hydrology Programme of UNESCO.

In the Southeast Asian region, the FAO and UNESCAP began, in 1999, a cooperative programme to promote the development of national water visions. The pilot project focused on four countries —
Viet Nam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The process included the preparation of country case studies, round-table discussions of case study findings, and the preparation of final country reports.
A synthesis of the results was produced as a basis for extending the programme to other countries in the region (Le Huu Ti and Thierry Facon, 2001).

The present report follows this model and presents the results of the country case study for the Kingdom of Cambodia.

1.2 Cambodia's national development goals

National development goals must provide the context within which Cambodia's Vision for Water is developed. The main objectives of Cambodia's `Economic Government' are geared towards poverty alleviation, through high and sustainable economic growth (six to seven percent per annum is the objective) and equitable sharing of the benefits of growth. The Second Socio-economic Development Plan presents three policy objectives. These are:

A supporting fourth policy objective is to improve the governance environment through effective implementation of the Governance Action Plan.

The government's Socio-Economic Development Requirements and Proposals (SEDRP May 2001) makes several references to water resources.1 Water is seen as contributing to the government's priority areas of poverty alleviation and economic growth, mainly in terms of irrigated agriculture, which is seen as essential to addressing poverty through achieving food security and promoting income generation in rural areas. The importance of water is recognized also in the context of water supply and sanitation, whose improvement is seen as necessary to raise the health status of the population, particularly
the poor. The Royal Government's Public Investment Programme proposes to allocate more than
US$180 million of projected investment funds (2001-03) to the `Water resources, water supply and sanitation' sector; 11 percent of the total, $12.6 million, is allocated to irrigation and other water-related items in the agriculture sector.

Water-related aspects of other sectors also receive mention in the Socio-Economic Development Requirements and Proposals. They include continued appraisal of the potential contribution of hydropower, which is almost wholly undeveloped, and conservation of freshwater fisheries, which are of considerable importance to the country's nutritional status, but which are under threat from environmental degradation and overexploitation. Other areas, however, such as tourism, industrial development and transportation, make little mention of the role that water resources management should play.

The government's environmental plans incorporate water-related matters to some extent, mainly in terms of conservation of the Tonlé Sap hydrological system and ecosystems. Some components of the investment proposals would improve water-related information. A particularly important aspect of
water-related information is flood forecasting. Flooding is a natural aspect of life in the Mekong/Tonlé Sap plain which Cambodians have inhabited for centuries. However, a growing population, urbanization and economic development in the floodplain make flood warning and mitigation an increasingly important service.

Water is a pervasive aspect of life, important to many sectors of Cambodia's economy and society. As in many countries, it is difficult to reconcile all the demands on water resources while sustaining them for the benefit of natural ecosystems and future generations. According to the Socio-Economic Development Requirements and Proposals `water resources management... is a sector where there is
a need to develop a well-defined strategy'.

1.3 Cambodia's process of developing a national water vision

Cambodia has taken several major steps in recent years to develop a sound foundation for water resources management. Parallel processes have contributed different perspectives on the country's Vision for Water. They have not always been well coordinated, but together they are enabling rapid progress. In each case, technical assistance from an international organization has been invaluable in assisting Cambodian experts to carry out the work. These processes include:

A similar approach has been used in all of these exercises. It reflects the stage to which Cambodia's governmental system has evolved, and the distribution of expertise in the country. In each case, a particular ministry of the Royal Government — in many cases the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM) — goes through the internal process of drafting a document, calling on other ministries, provincial governments, NGOs and international organizations for information, where necessary. When the draft is judged by the initiating ministry to be satisfactory, it is distributed for comment, and revised accordingly. The subsequent process normally includes two or more stages of consultation, commonly in the form of national workshops, seminars or conferences. At these, representatives of concerned ministries, provincial government departments, NGOs and international organizations debate the draft document and propose changes. There may be additional consultation at a more personal level to refine the material. Often, a major national conference is used to `sign off' on the document, in effect transmitting it to the appropriate minister.

During the last two or three years a number of major events have contributed to the process of establishing a national approach to water resources management. It is worth listing some of these to indicate the extent of the debate and sharing of information that has taken place:

August 2000

Seminar on a National Water Sector Profile for Cambodia.

December 2000

National Conference on Cambodia's Water Resources: An Agenda for Action.

March 2001

National Conference — Cambodia's Water Resources: The Next Steps.

March 2002

National Workshop on Water, Public Awareness and Sustainable Development.

March 2002

Celebration of World Water Day 2002: Water for Development.

August 2002

National Workshop: Defining Water Resources Management Issues in Cambodia.

October 2002

Workshop on the National Water Resources Policy.

As a result of Cambodia's recent history, expertise is quite limited and concentrated in government agencies, and thus line ministries necessarily have taken the lead in this work. Moreover, much of the work has been carried out with technical assistance from international funding agencies, which normally work through the government and use central government ministries as implementing agencies. However, as expertise develops at other levels of government and outside government, it is being drawn on to an increasing extent. This is exemplified in particular by the workshop held in October 2002 to debate
a draft of the National Water Resources Policy. Half of the people invited were from provincial rural development councils, one quarter represented NGOs and international organizations, and the remaining quarter MOWRAM and the Inter-Ministerial Task Force responsible for drafting the policy.

1.4 Principles of water resources management in Cambodia

Most societies seem to agree on a number of fundamental, unchanging principles related to water. Some of these are long established; for instance, almost all countries regard water as being vested in the state and not owned by any one person. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia states this particular principle. Other principles have been stated by the international community only recently, as pressure on global water resources has forced many countries to address water-related issues in a determined way.

Cambodia has not formally enunciated a set of principles for water resources management. Three articles in the draft Law on Water Resources Management state what might be regarded as basic principles for water resources management:

The draft National Water Resources Policy implies a fourth principle:

An early draft of the policy proposed a number of additional principles based on Agenda 21, but these were removed in the process of simplifying and focusing the document.


Water is a basic resource for many sectors. Because of population growth and economic
development, the increasing demand for water will place severe pressure on the country's water resources. As part of the process of preparing its National Water Resources Policy, the government has expressed its goal for effective and sustainable management of water in a Vision for Water in Cambodia:


Water has for centuries been a central aspect of Khmer life, with most of the main settlements
located beside the Mekong, Tonlé Sap or other perennial streams or lakes. Even — or especially — away from perennial water, the availability of water for domestic purposes, care of livestock and growing rice is a basic determinant of the quality of life for a large proportion of the population.

3.1 Cambodia's water resources: An overview

The water resources of Cambodia are dominated by the Mekong river and Tonlé Sap system, and
86 percent of the country is drained by these rivers and their tributaries. The kingdom could be described as a bowl, with rivers and streams flowing from ranges of mountains around the periphery to the Central Plains around the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and the floodplain/delta of the Mekong. The annual inflow from upstream is approximately 410 billion m3 , and about 90 billion m3 is generated by runoff from within the kingdom. Rainfall and river flows are highly variable throughout the year, and also from year to year (Figures 2.1 and 2.2). The Northwest monsoon brings 90 percent of the rainfall, which can reach up to 3 000 mm in the mountains. The monsoonal flood during May-October provides an abundance of water, nutrients and fresh silt for floodplain areas, which support rice-growing and one of the most productive freshwater fisheries in the world. On the other hand, in some years the flood may cause severe losses of crops, property and life. The dry season during the Northeast monsoon from December to April is, from an agricultural point of view, unproductive, except in the few areas of the country where irrigation is provided.

From vision to action. A synthesis of experiences in least-developed countries in Southeast Asia

Note: Evaporation exceeds rainfall for much of the year.

Figure 2.1 Mean monthly rainfall and evaporation at Phnom Penh meteorological station

During the monsoon flood, water flows upstream from the Mekong into the Tonlé Sap. The Great Lake expands in area from about 2 500 km2 to about 15 000 km2 , and stores some 70 billion m3 of water. This annual cycle is of huge importance for the fishery on which many Cambodians depend for protein food intake.

Water is generally of high quality during the flood season, because any contaminants (from natural processes or from human activity) are diluted by the huge quantities of rainfall and runoff. However, water pollution during the dry season is an increasing concern, because there is less dilution of contaminants. Apart from the heavy pollution load from Phnom Penh city into the Tonlé Sap and Bassac, many contaminants come from non-point sources, such as livestock and human waste disposal, and are very difficult to deal with. The consequences of pollution for human health are obvious in the kingdom's statistics regarding water-related diseases. The consequences for aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and livestock health are likely to be just as serious, but are unknown.

From vision to action. A synthesis of experiences in least-developed countries in Southeast Asia

Note: The low flow level is usually 2-3 metres above sea level. The annual flood level has varied from 8.6 to 15.4 metres during the 12 year period, and seems to be increasing. Flooding in the town becomes serious when water level reaches 15.5-16.0 metres.

Figure 2.2 Maximum and minimum water levels at Kampong Cham, on the Mekong river, 1990-2001

Cambodia has an estimated groundwater resource of 17.6 billion m3 . This figure is small in comparison with the quantity of surface water, but represents a year-round storage which could be a source of water during the dry season. It is being exploited to an increasing extent; there are at least 25 000 community water supply tube wells, and large-diameter motorized tube wells for irrigation.

Total withdrawals of water are estimated to be 0.75 billion m3 per year (Table 2.1). This appears to be very small in comparison with the total water resource, but in practice the availability of water during the dry season is very much less. Non-consumptive uses — navigation, washing and bathing, hydropower generation, fishing — also are restricted by a lack of water during the dry season. In summary, water of acceptable quality is already insufficient for many purposes, and population growth and economic development in the future will make the situation worse.

Table 2.1     Estimated water withdrawals 


Quantity (billion m3/year)

Domestic water












Total flow from Mekong to the sea


3.2 The key sectors

Water contributes to life in Cambodia in several subsectors. These conventionally are considered separately, and the following paragraphs provide some information on them. Increasingly, however, it is recognized that water must be managed in an integrated way, in which the various subsectors interact and compete is taken into account.

Domestic water supply

According to the 1998 Census, only 24 percent of rural households had access to a safe drinking water supply, and only 60 percent of urban households (85 percent in the capital, Phnom Penh) (Figure 2.3). Only 9 percent of the rural and 41 percent of the urban populations have access to sanitation facilities, so that exposure to waterborne disease is high, and a major cause of illness and death.

From vision to action. A synthesis of experiences in least-developed countries in Southeast Asia

Figure 2.3 Water sources for domestic supply

There has been substantial investment in water supply in Phnom Penh, and the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority has become a financially self-sustaining entity. In provincial towns, the long-term objective is to provide water that meets WHO standards to at least 70 percent of their populations and their water supply authorities are being transformed into self-sustaining autonomous bodies, in some cases in private ownership or management. Several current projects will improve water supplies in over 150 towns. In rural areas, some 6.4 million people depend on unprotected water sources. There has been a significant effort by the government, international organizations like UNICEF, and NGOs like World Vision to install wells for water supply and to introduce sanitary latrines. There are an estimated 93 000 functioning wells and 20 000 water supply ponds, and the current socio-economic development plan includes provision of an additional 45 000 water points in rural areas, and the construction of 135 000 latrines.

Waste disposal to water

Data are available for waste water disposal in Phnom Penh city, but not in general for other towns. Commercial and industrial discharges in Phnom Penh are estimated to be about 6 million m3 , and discharges from houses and public institutions are estimated to be in the range of 24 to 34 million m3 . However, sewers carry both storm water and foul water, and many properties (particularly industrial sites located along watercourses) are not connected to the sewer network and discharge directly into the natural drainage system. Many Phnom Penh sewers discharge directly into the Tonlé Sap, Tonlé Bassac or other water­courses; others discharge into holding ponds, which provide a measure of treatment before the water is pumped to the river. Of 148 factories in Phnom Penh, only eight have onsite primary treatment, and most effluents exceed Cambodia's water quality standards.

Irrigated agriculture

Rice growing accounted for 90 percent of all field crops in 1997, and provides the food staple for the population. Rainy-season yields (1.85 million ha harvested) averaged 1.81 tonne/ha in 1999, and dry season yields (233 000 ha harvested) averaged 3.04 tonne/ha. The country is more or less self-sufficient in food in an average year. However, seasonal and year-to-year variability in rainfall, and periodic droughts, expose farmers to variations in crop production that, without control over water availability, they have limited ability to manage.

The level of irrigation development is low, with irrigated land representing less than 20 percent of the total area under food crop production. Nevertheless, irrigated areas produce approximately 40 percent of the total rice production. There is little double-cropping, and most irrigation is supplementary irrigation of dry season flood recession crops or wet season rain-fed lowland crops. A wide range of water delivery methods is used, from traditional water wheels and lift devices to the rapidly growing use of small, motorized pumps to exploit groundwater. The amount of artificial storage is very small — the lowest in Southeast Asia as a percentage of the total water resource.

More than 1 000 irrigation systems are fed by surface water abstraction, although an inventory in 1994 indicated that about 65 percent was only partially operational, and 14 percent not operating at all. Because of poor design and inadequate construction methods and materials, particularly during the Khmer Rouge regime, many structures or entire schemes are of little value, or are definitely harmful to water management. On the other hand, groundwater use is growing rapidly as individual farmers recognize the opportunity it offers to control crop water availability. For example, it is estimated that about 2 000 treadle pumps are installed annually for domestic water supply and home garden irrigation. It is estimated that shallow wells could be used over 48 000 km2 .

To cater for expected population growth (2.4 percent per year) and requirements for improved nutrition — not to mention export of agricultural products to generate foreign exchange — it will be necessary to increase agricultural production. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries target for rice production in 2005/06 is that it exceeds the 1999/2000 figure by 18 percent. Irrigation is not the only means of increasing yields, but it is an essential means if farmers' exposure to variability in crop yields is to be reduced.

Freshwater fisheries

Fish (freshwater and marine) account for about 75 percent of Cambodians' animal protein intake. Cambodia possesses an exceptional inland fishery resource, the fourth largest in the world, in the Tonlé Sap–Mekong river system and floodplain. The Tonlé Sap Lake is estimated to have a productivity of
65 kg/ha/year (dry season area), and to account for about 75 percent of Cambodia's wild freshwater fish production. Many of the species are migratory, and breed in the Mekong main stem or in tributaries. Freshwater capture fisheries account for 62 percent of consumption, aquaculture for 8 percent, and marine fisheries for the balance.

An estimated one million people depend on fishing for their livelihoods, notably the residents of the floating villages on the Tonlé Sap. The most recent estimates for fish catches are: large-scale fisheries — 45 000-80 000 tonnes/year (t/y); medium-sized fisheries — 85 000-100 000 t/y; family fisheries — 115 000-140 000 t/y; rice-field fisheries — 45 000-110 000 t/y. It appears that the catch of large and medium-sized fish is declining, but the catch of small fish has increased. The total catch therefore is stable, but environmental degradation of the seasonally flooded areas, conversion of floodplain forestland for agricultural use, and growing fishing pressure present a threat to the sustainability of capture fishery.

Hydropower development

At present, the electricity supply in Cambodia is largely dependent on thermal (diesel) generation and on a number of isolated systems that serve Phnom Penh and the main provincial towns. Only 7 percent of the population has access to a reliable supply, and the great majority of the rural population have access only, at best, to 12-volt car batteries. Cambodia's hydroelectric power potential (including some on the Mekong main stream) is estimated to be 8 000/15 000 MW, but so far only 12 MW has been developed. A number of feasibility studies are being undertaken at a range of scales, although at present the country's power planning tends to focus on construction of transmission lines to import power from neighbouring Viet Nam.

Navigation and other in-stream uses

The Tonlé Sap, the Bassac, the Mekong, and a number of other tributary rivers provide a water transport network of about 1 800 km, over a third of which can be used year-round. The Mekong between Phnom Penh and Kratié can accommodate vessels of up to a few hundred tonnes, and between Kratié and Stung Treng vessels of 20 to 50 tonnes. Navigation is limited by low water during the dry season, and the existence of bars — particularly at the entrance to the Great Lake — that require regular dredging. The dredging programme has been neglected in recent years, however, and other constraints on river transport include a lack of navigational aids, hydrographical surveys and skilled sailors.

The port of Phnom Penh handles about 25 percent of the country's total international cargo; three quarters of the tonnage is imported fuel, which is the cause of some concern over possible environmental damage from accidental spillage. The port also plays an important role as a hub for inland water transport, and in the export of rubber and timber.

The Mekong system is used extensively for commercial passenger transport, and for non-commercial (private) transportation of people and goods in small boats. Particularly significant, perhaps, is the use of the river by tourists, particularly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). No data are available on passenger numbers or on the number of people whose livelihoods depend on water transport. A notable feature of society in Cambodia is, however, the floating villages on the Great Lake, and the many other riverside villages throughout the Central Plains. Other in-stream uses of Cambodia's surface waters include recreation, fishing and food gathering, bathing, washing clothes, waste disposal etc. by riverside villagers. No data are available, but given that 85 percent of the population is rural, in some 13 400 villages, this usage must be very significant overall. On the other hand, commercial recreational uses of Cambodia's rivers and lakes are negligible, although it can be expected that tourist ventures will make greater use of the Mekong main stem and of the Tonlé Sap as the tourism industry develops.

3.3 Water resources management in Cambodia

The Constitution vests water ownership in the state (Article 58) and assigns to the state the task of planning the management of water resources (Article 59). It states that `the control, use and management of state properties shall be determined by law', and therefore provides the basis for the water law. Several laws and decrees are relevant to water resources management.

The Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Management provides that natural resources (including water) `shall be preserved, developed and managed to use in a rational and sustainable manner'. It has provisions that relate to environmental impact assessment, natural resources (including water) manage­ment, environmental monitoring, and pollution. Article 5 of the Law on Land (1992) states the principle of state ownership of land, by which rivers and lakes may not be privately owned. Articles 113-140, dealing with easements, regulate the relationship between upstream and downstream land with regard to natural water flow, and the establishment of easements for the purpose of irrigating or draining land.

The Law on Fisheries Management and Administration (1987) regulates fishing and aquaculture in inland waters. It is being reviewed and revised to stimulate investment in the fishery sector and provide better protection of fishery resources. Prime Minister's Circular No. 01 SR (11 January 1999) on the Implementation Policy of Sustainable Irrigation Systems contains model statutes for farmer water user communities, and provisions on the assessment and collection of irrigation fees.

A draft Law on Water Resources Management in Cambodia has been presented by the Council of Ministers to the National Assembly, for review and approval. The draft law includes chapters on water resources inventory and planning, water resources use and development, groundwater, protection of water resources, flood control, servitudes (rights and obligations), incentives and penalties, and international rivers. When its supporting decrees are passed, it will provide a sound basis for sustainable water resources management.

Several government institutions have responsibilities in the water sector (Table 2.2). The principal vehicles for inter-agency cooperation are the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Council for the Development of Cambodia. At provincial level, operational activity is focused through provincial governors, who are responsible to the Minister of the Interior. Coordination among ministry/departmental staff at provincial level may be stronger than at national level because of more immediate oversight by governors.

Provincial rural development committees, which are chaired by the governors, provide an increasingly important coordinating mechanism at provincial level. Commune councils and village development committees provide additional mechanisms for bringing resource management decisions to the local level. The village development committees are democratically elected, which provides the foundation of a participatory community approach to rural development, including rural water supply and community irrigation.

International organizations such as UNICEF and a large number of NGOs are active in water-related activities in Cambodia, principally domestic water supply, sanitation and small-scale irrigation. These are commonly small-scale interventions, at the neighbourhood or village level. The EU-supported Programme de Réhabilitation et d'Appui au Secteur Agricole du Cambodge (PRASAC) has incorporated water point committees (for domestic water supply) and water user associations (for irrigation systems) in its interventions in over 1 250 villages in six provinces around Phnom Penh. Similarly, other interventions in rural water supply and sanitation, such as the UNICEF-assisted Water and Environmental Sanitation programme (which during 1992-97 benefited 0.7 million people), increasingly have incorporated a bottom-up approach starting at the village level. In irrigated agriculture, the government policy is to devolve responsibility for all aspects of scheme operation to farmer water user communities, with support from MOWRAM. The government's expressed urban sanitation policy is based on community participation and the urban water supply policy also allows for community participation, principally in neighbourhoods that do not yet have water supply systems.

Cambodia is moving rapidly along the path to a fully open market economy. The government is committed to reducing its direct involvement in delivering water services. The Kirirom power station was rehabilitated recently under a Build-Operate-Transfer agreement with a Chinese company, and licences to operate existing water supply systems have been issued to private operators in eleven towns. A project to provide water to 150 district towns will use two approaches: in the first approach, the private sector will undertake feasibility studies, design the systems and build and operate them, and in the second approach, the Ministry of Industry Mines and Energy will design and construct the systems, then lease them to private sector operators.

Table 2.2     Institutional basis for water resources management


Water-related responsibilities

Cambodia National Mekong Committee

  • Advise the Cambodian representative to the Mekong River Commission Council (MRC) on all matters relating to activities within the Mekong river basin that could affect Cambodian interests.

  • Review proposals prepared by government agencies in the light of the Mekong Agreement.

  • Liaise between MRC and government agencies.

Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM)

  • Responsibilities defined by government Decree on 30 June 1999 include (in abbreviated form):

- Define policies relating to the strategic development of water resources

-   Research on and investigation of water resources

-   Prepare plans for water resources development and conservation

-   Manage direct and indirect water resources use, and mitigate water-related disasters

-   Draft water law and monitor its implementation

-   Gather and manage hydro-meteorological and groundwater data and information

-   Provide technical advice

-   Administer international collaboration, including within the Mekong basin

Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME)

  • Water-related responsibilities include:

-   Planning industrial water uses and hydropower

-   Water supply provision to provincial towns

-   Administration of single-purpose schemes involving hydropower

Ministry of Rural Development (MRD)

  • Water-related responsibilities include:

-   Hydro-geological data collection and archiving

-   Water supply, sanitation, land drainage in rural areas

Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT)

  • Water-related responsibilities include:

-   Land drainage and sewerage in Phnom Penh and provincial towns

-   Study, survey, construct and maintain river works for navigation and water transport

Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) and Municipality of Phnom Penh (under the Minister of the Interior)

  • Water supply in Phnom Penh

  • Water resources in the Phnom Penh region

Ministry of the Environment (MoE)

  • MoE is mandated to protect Cambodia's natural resources and environmental quality from degradation.  The list of media for which it is responsible includes water.    It is responsible for water quality and pollution control, including monitoring wastewater discharges and issuing permits.

  • The Natural Environmental Action Plan includes six focal areas, one of which is fisheries and floodplain agriculture in the Tonle Sap region; otherwise, water receives limited mention

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)

  • MAFF is engaged in development of policies and strategies for agriculture, forestry and fisheries that have significant implications for the management of the water resources required for irrigation and capture fishery/aquaculture. MAFF responsibilities for forestry also have relevance to catchment conditions, hydrological regimes and water quality issues.

Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF)

  • MEF  is  responsible  for compiling  the Socio-Economic Development Programme and Public Investment Programme. To the extent that water-related investments are proposed in a number of components of the programmes, MEF has the role of harmonizing proposals and matching them against government investment priorities.

Ministry of Health (MOH)

  • MoH is responsible for controlling the quality of surface and ground water used for public water supply, as well as for health education and other matters related to public health.

Provincial governments

  • Provincial governments have an oversight and coordinating role with regard to the provincial departments of ministries with water-related responsibilities. They provide the framework for provincial and sub-provincial development committees, some of which are engaged in water-related development (mostly water supply, sanitation, small scale irrigation).


  • Some municipalities operate public water supply systems.

  • Municipalities are responsible for drainage and sewerage within their areas.

Development committees

  • Development committees at provincial, district, commune and village levels have responsibility for socio-economic development initiatives.    In some, water-related initiatives may be included, particularly with regard to water supply and sanitation.

Private sector activity in irrigation is limited mostly to that based on groundwater, where individual farmers are able to install wells and pumps independently. This involves the individual farmers, well drillers and pump suppliers. It is estimated that there are several thousand such applications, which have been multiplying rapidly during the last two years, as the idea spreads.


4.1 The nature of the issues

Cambodia has a relatively small population and underdeveloped economy, but future population
growth and economic development will place rapidly increasing demands on water resources. Before these demands become severe, it is essential that the country define the issues that it confronts now and that can be expected to arise in future.

Box 2.1 The government's priorities

At the National Workshop on Water, Public Awareness, and Sustainable Development, Prime Minister Hun Sen presented the closing speech.

The Prime Minister placed water resources firmly in the context of the government's policy agenda for food security and economic growth, responding to climate change, and providing clean water and healthful sanitation. He pointed to a wide range of needs, including the needs to:

  • provide education and capacity building;

  • rehabilitate existing irrigation systems;

  • improve and expand medium- and large-scale irrigation systems after institutional capacity building has enabled sustainable management;

  • establish community capability to manage water, through farmer water user communities;

  • develop groundwater resources;

  • establish databases on water resources;

  • provide state services to deal with floods and droughts;

  • carry out strategic design of water resources systems in all areas, considering small, medium- and large-scale systems as interconnected parts of the whole; and

  • participate in international cooperation, especially at regional and subregional levels.

In addition to the above, Premier Hun Sen pointed to the need for action in a number of areas, including:

  • enabling the MOWRAM to carry out the duties for which it was established;

  • responding to the problems and opportunities that are presented by many of the irrigation systems constructed during the Khmer Rouge regime;

  • promoting cooperation among water users and solving problems that cause conflicts;

  • dealing with water pollution and sedimentation, especially in the Tonlé Sap and at key locations along the Mekong river;

  • completing fishery reforms and ensuring the long-term sustainability of fisheries;

  • balancing Royal Government of Cambodia intervention in the water management sector with the actions of individual landholders;

  • managing human activity in rivers and wetlands, including construction and land reclamation; and

  • ensuring effective cooperation with other riparian states in the Mekong river basin.

(from Summary Report of the national workshop)

Water-related issues can be grouped in many different ways. For instance, there are issues that relate to sector-by-sector exploitation of water, such as the need to develop hydropower generation to reduce expenditure on imported oil. On the other hand, one might consider trans-sector issues relating to resource management practices, such as the need for appropriate financial arrangements to ensure sustainability of infrastructure.

Recently, three major exercises have considered the issues facing the water sector in Cambodia. These are: (1) Preparation of a National Water Resources Strategy as a component of the Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project; (2) preparation of a National Water Sector Profile and Agenda for Action, as a component of a technical assistance project to help build capacity in the MOWRAM; and (3) the National Workshop on Defining Water Resources Management Issues in Cambodia (August 2002). Each of these exercises appraised issues within a different conceptual framework, and proposed somewhat different sets of responses.

For simplicity, the different sets of issues are considered here in the following groups:

4.2 Competition for water: sharing the resource

At present, there are few cases of direct competition for water (Table 2.3). In the wet season, water is abundant, and the main issue is excess. In the dry season, water shortages occur in many localities, but for the time being they do not appear to be exacerbated significantly by competition between users. The main instances of competition are at community level, between rice farmers and fisher folk, and between upstream and downstream farmers along the river system. Competition can easily grow into conflict and sabotage, but at present it is managed more or less effectively by village and commune authorities.

Table 2.3     Interactions between competing uses of water 


Salinity Control


Irrigated agriculture

Domestic water supply

Industrial water supply

Waste water disposal



Recrea Fisheries

Salinity control




















Irrigated agriculture










Domestic water supply










Industrial water supply










Waste water disposal






























0: no competition; 1: minor competition; 2: moderate competition; 3: severe competition; C: complementary use

The aspect of competition that is of greatest importance is between the use of watercourses for waste disposal and other uses that require uncontaminated water, particularly domestic water supply, contact in-stream uses, and fisheries/food gathering. Contaminated water and food are significant contributors to morbidity and mortality in Cambodia, particularly among children. As both rural and urban populations grow, the impact of uncontrolled waste discharge upon water quality and public health can be expected to increase. The government is devoting considerable attention to its water supply and sanitation policy, and international organizations and NGOs are investing substantially in water supply facilities in Phnom Penh, provincial towns and rural areas. This should alleviate the competition between safe water supply and waste disposal as uses of watercourses.

A major issue for Cambodia is the effect of water resources development on upstream countries, particularly in terms of the impact of large dams on the Lower Mekong flow regime. Already, construction of a dam on the Se San river in Viet Nam appears to have had a severe impact on residents downstream in Cambodia. Future development of large dams and channelling of the river for navigation could have a significant impact on Cambodia, particularly with regard to fish production, navigation, and flood hazard. Some of the impact could be positive, for example by reducing flood peaks and the severity of flooding on the Mekong floodplain. On the other hand, negative effects are feared, particularly with regard to fish migration and breeding in upstream tributaries and the navigability of the Mekong and Bassac during low flows. The Mekong Agreement provides the basis for resolving conflict among signatories, and the Water Utilization Programme of the Mekong River Commission will provide the means of implementing it.

4.3 Sustaining the resource: Water quality and aquatic ecosystems

In general, Cambodia's water quality is good, particularly during the wet season when large volumes of water are flowing and diluting contaminants. However, particularly during the dry season and downstream from population centres, surface waters can be contaminated with human, animal and other wastes. Some groundwater wells have levels of arsenic, fluoride and total hardness that are a cause for concern, and the possibility of contamination of shallow aquifers by human and animal waste and agricultural chemicals must be taken very seriously.

It is quite feasible to provide potable water throughout the country, for instance by tapping uncontaminated shallow aquifers in villages and rural areas, or by rehabilitating water supply infrastructure in urban areas. The constraints on completing the task are financial and social, rather than hydrological. Maintenance of water quality will not be so straightforward. Point sources such as sewer outfalls can be dealt with using well established (and not necessarily expensive) technology, such as oxidation ponds, artificial wetlands, and irrigation of wastewater onto tree plantations. Non-point-source contamination from non-sewered urban and rural populations and agricultural activities is difficult to address. Plans for agricultural development imply increasing use of agricultural chemicals and an intensification of livestock rearing and thus non-point-source pollution in rural areas can be expected to increase in the coming years.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the kingdom's aquatic ecosystems is the condition of the rivers, lakes and wetlands of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap system. They support freshwater capture fishery, the fourth largest in the world, that supplies Cambodians with an estimated 290 000-430 000 tonnes/year of fish,
75 percent of their animal protein intake. However, this resource appears to be at its sustainable maximum production and in danger of deteriorating because of overfishing, clearance and degradation of the lakeshore forests, and siltation caused by conversion of forest land to agriculture. These concerns are being addressed within the context of the National Environmental Action Plan, and a major research exercise is seeking to better understand the system.

Concern is often expressed that extensive exploitation and clearance of forests in the Mekong and Tonlé Sap river basin is causing increased flooding, increased erosion, and downstream silting of rivers and lakes. Forest management to conserve biodiversity and minimise offsite effects is an important element of Cambodia's National Environmental Action Plan. Uncontrolled mining also is thought by many observers to result in sedimentation in rivers and deterioration of water quality. Unfortunately, the data needed to assess the severity of the impact of these activities on the watershed are not available.

4.4 Extreme events: Mitigating the effects of floods and droughts

A negative aspect of Cambodia's abundant water resource is the cost of damage and loss suffered as
a result of extreme flooding. The risk of periodic flooding is an inevitable feature of living on
a floodplain, and Cambodians have adjusted to it for many centuries. Indeed, a significant portion of the population depends on annual flooding for its rice and fish, and the system of colmatage canals is intended in effect to increase the flooded area. However, extreme floods, such as that experienced in 2000, can cause considerable hardship, particularly to the rural poor who can least afford it.

The draft Law on Water Resources Management provides for flood mitigation, and a comprehensive flood mitigation strategy will be required to implement its provisions effectively. However, the scale of the natural hydrological system and the pressure to settle and exploit flood-prone areas are so great that comprehensive flood mitigation (structural or non-structural) is unlikely to be practicable, except where the capital value of land improvement justifies the cost. At present, Cambodia's flood mitigation measures rely on the flood forecasting capability of MOWRAM, flood embankments and drainage serving an area of 260 km2 in and around Phnom Penh, and piecemeal flood protection elsewhere (including the flow impeding effects of highways built on raised embankments). The Cambodia Natural Disaster Management Committee is increasingly effective in helping communities to prepare for and cope with the threat of flood disasters.

There is growing recognition of the effects of drought on Cambodia's farmers. In the bad drought year of 1994, only 69 percent of the total rice-growing area was harvested, with crop losses ranging from two percent in Kompong Speu to 54 percent in Battambang province. Periodic drought is a significant constraint on the attempts of farmers in rain-fed areas to increase both agricultural productivity and production. Various forms of drought relief are provided, including emergency pumping of water to farmers, provision of seed for replanting crops, and in the worst case, emergency food aid.

4.5 The knowledge base: Knowledge, information and technology

Cambodia's arrangements for the management of water-related information are in general very weak. There are many areas in which information simply is not available or extremely limited, e.g. groundwater quality, quantities and impact of water use, consumption and return flows by irrigation schemes. Acquisition and management of water-related data and information appear to have a low priority in Cambodia at the moment, with activity tending to reflect the emphases of international agencies and donors, e.g. data related to ecological and environmental issues.

As in many countries, many consultants' reports have been prepared, generally on a project basis, which collectively would provide a huge information base if only they could be securely archived and readily accessed. The Mekong River Commission is a source of substantial water-related data and information for Cambodia, dating back over forty years. MOWRAM has established a computerized database of water-related information, and there are a number of other initiatives, often associated with specific investment projects, to extend data collection. Nevertheless, the lack of water-related data is a serious impediment to water resources development and management.

There is limited national research and development (R&D) capacity or activity in the water sector, whether in the government, educational or private sectors. Cambodia, therefore, is heavily dependent on international organizations for innovation. Foremost among such organizations in the water sector is the Mekong River Commission, whose investigations of a wide range of matters — fisheries, flood management, resource assessment, etc. — provide a major potential information resource for Cambodia. Other international organizations (directly or via consultants) carry out necessary in-country R&D, or introduce technology developed elsewhere. An example is the groundwater resource investigations carried out by the FAO. Some R&D in the areas of governance and policy development are very relevant to the water sector, though aimed at rural and socio­-economic development in general. For example, the interventions of the Programme de Réhabilitation et d'Appui au Secteur Agricole du Cambodge have a significant R&D component to test innovative methods of rural and village development. These methods have been applied inter alia to water supply and sanitation and small irrigation schemes.

4.6 Institutional arrangements and management capacity

Institutional arrangements in the water sector and related sectors (e.g. the environment) and subsectors (e.g. rural water supply) are undergoing rapid change and capacity building. Many arrangements are very recent, or are not yet fully operational. For example, MOWRAM dates only from 1999, and the draft Law on Water Resources Management was transmitted to the National Assembly only in 2002. Institutional strengthening is being carried out in several institutions with water-related responsibilities, including MOWRAM.

Policies have been promulgated for several water subsectors, including irrigation, urban water supply, urban sanitation, and rural water supply and sanitation. There are also strategies, strategic frameworks and action plans in other water-related areas, including electricity, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and the natural environment. They have been developed at different times and for different time scales. Most have been developed with the assistance of international organizations and consultants that coordinate their activities to a limited extent. The National Environmental Action Plan considers water only from the perspective of the Tonlé Sap fishery and ecosystem. An overarching National Water Resources Policy is now, in 2002, being drafted, to provide a context within which subsector policies are developed. Hitherto, the various documents have not been developed as parts of a single integrated package of policies and strategies.

The draft Law on Water Resources Management has been prepared in order to regulate water sector management which is, to a certain extent, the prerogative of several institutions. A series of agreements between MOWRAM and the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which define their respective spheres of competence, imply that MOWRAM will perform a regulatory role in water resources management, whereas the other ministries will continue to perform the role of water resources developers or service providers, under the overall supervision of MOWRAM.

Relationships among agencies with water-related responsibilities appear to be weak, or hindered by requirements for staff to follow strict lines of communication. MOWRAM is still establishing its position as the lead water-sector agency, while the Cambodia National Mekong Committee provides
a venue for communication and coordination among agencies with water-related responsibilities in the Mekong river basin, which accounts for 86 percent of Cambodia's land area.

A critical issue in the water sector is the capacity of MOWRAM and other relevant institutions to carry out their responsibilities, at both national and provincial levels. Because of the country's recent traumatic history, government agencies do not have sufficient numbers of experienced, trained staff, particularly in the age group that normally would fill middle to senior professional posts. The problem is compounded by low public service salaries, and the limited availability of funds for any purpose — human resources development, facilities and equipment, data collection and information management, routine operations. Thus, institutional development often is carried out as part of capacity building projects funded by overseas development agencies. Without a comprehensive approach for the whole water sector, reliance on project funding may not meet Cambodia's overall national priorities, and may divert scarce staff resources into areas of activity or training that are not top priority.


On the basis of the experiences in the establishment of the framework for action in association with
the Southeast Asia Technical Advisory Committee of the Global Water Partnership as well as the findings of the first phase of the FAO-UNESCAP Regional Cooperation Project, the following four themes and their associated priority activities were identified as being necessary for the realization of the Cambodian National Water Vision, which is part of the national socio-economic development process:

The above four themes were adopted by four working groups at the round-table workshop on the formulation of a national water vision to action programme, organized by MOWRAM in cooperation with UNESCAP and FAO in Phnom Penh on 8-9 January 2003. The workshop was attended by
39 participants from various agencies, as listed in Annex 2.1. The main findings are summarized in the proceeding sections.

5.1 Water for people: Poverty reduction and rural development

Being an LDC, the majority of Cambodians are poor and about 80 percent lives in the rural area. The current five-year plan of national social and economic development aims to uplift the social and economic conditions of this poor group. On the basis of the general issues related to integrated water resources management identified earlier, the working group on the theme of `Water for People' conducted three working sessions to identify priority objectives and related programmes of action for poverty alleviation and rural development, including identification of key actors, indicators of achievements and possible roles and priority activities of MOWRAM. Further details of the discussions are presented in the following sections.

5.1.1 Priority objectives and related programmes of action

Three priority objectives of water resources development for rural development and poverty reduction were selected as follows:

  1. To increase the incomes of the poor.
  2. To provide clean water and sanitation to the rural areas.
  3. To create non-farm employment.

Regarding the first priority objectives, the following programmes of action would be required:

  1. The construction or rehabilitation of an irrigation system with the capacity to supply water throughout the year (agriculture and domestic supply).
    1. Survey and investigation to develop projects with high economic efficiency for the government or donors to invest in.
    2. Participation of farmers in operation and maintenance of the system.
    3. Training of farmers on diversified cultivation for crops with high economic return such as vegetables, aquaculture and livestock.
  2. Training of farmers on diversified cultivation for crops with high economic return such as vegetables, aquaculture and livestock.
    1. Organization of a training seminar to introduce all institutions to implementation (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO).
    2. Provision of seeds and extension services for implementation (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, NGOs and donors).
    3. Establishment of an agriculture credit system for rural areas (low or no interest system) (NGOs, international organizations).
  3. Resolution of conflicts between water user communities and agriculture communities.
    1. Allocation of water for use among the localities and individuals (MOWRAM and Ministry of Rural Development).
    2. Provision of guidance to local authorities on water use through training seminars and legislation (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MOWRAM).

5.1.2 Key actors/agencies

To support efforts to increase poor farmers' incomes, the following key agencies were identified together with their priority activities:

MOWRAM: Survey and study total areas for irrigation; provide training and dissemination on good irrigation practices and on appropriate operation and maintenance of an irrigation system; provide guidance and training on water utilization technology; disseminate information on water use law to different institutions.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Determine areas of cultivation suitable for different crops; disseminate advanced technology; disseminate techniques on aquaculture in ponds and paddy fields; disseminate cultivation practices and water management practices; disseminate and provide guidance on modern technology; and provide training and guidance on the cultivation of specific crops throughout the country; provide guidance on water supply practices for different crops.

Ministry of Rural Development: Improve health and sanitation in rural areas; provide information on markets; provide guidance on water use and hygiene; monitor clean water quality.

5.1.3 Indicators, targets and mechanisms

  1. Increase income from US$300/year to US$600/year in five years. Mechanisms include MOWRAM, Ministry of Rural Development reporting to the government. Issues and action: Capacity and skills and budget are required; identifying and planning areas for priority action. Strategy: Implementation and expansion of target areas.
  2. Provide clean water and sanitation: Increase from 20 to 50 percent in ten years. MOWRAM and Ministry of Rural Development to report to the government, including on efficiency and budget, and the setting of standards is required. Other priority programmes of the council may include improving existing water supply systems and creating new water supply systems.
  3. Create new employment opportunities: To increase non-farm activities by 60 percent
    in five years. Promotion could be carried out by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MOWRAM and Ministry of Rural Development with necessary technical assistance and financial resources for the planning and definition of the priority areas for implementation.

5.1.4 Suggested improvement in existing programmes

5.1.5 Expected enhanced role of MOWRAM

5.1.6 Priority activities expected from MOWRAM

5.2 Water for nature and economic development

Cambodia is known for its rich fishery resources, abundant waterways and ecotourism develop­ment. These waterways have been recognized for their strategic role in transportation development in the
subregion, particularly maritime and inland navigation. The aim therefore should be to further strengthen the strategic role of the country in economic development and cooperation in the Greater Mekong
subregion. On the basis of the integrated water resources management issues identified in the preceding chapter, the working group focused its attention on opportunities for economic development and nature conservation. In particular, the working group discussed the importance of water resources for agricultural development, waterborne transport, tourism development and hydropower generation.

5.2.1 Priority objectives

  1. To develop agriculture (irrigation, fisheries, aquatic culture, etc.).
  2. To develop waterborne transport and ecotourism.
  3. To develop hydropower.

5.2.2 Issues

Related to Objective 1: (1) Lack of finance; (2) lack of international market, technical knowledge and skill; (3) lack of law enforcement.

Related to Objective 2: (1) Lack of finance; (2) lack of technical capacity, planning and management; (3) lack of national and international law enforcement.

Related to Objective 3: (1) Lack of finance; (2) lack of investment; (3) lack of technical capacity, knowledge and skill.

5.2.3 Three main key actors:

  1. Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.
  2. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
  3. Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

5.2.4 Strategies

  1. For agriculture, including irrigation systems:
  1. For hydropower:
  1. For navigation:

5.2.5 Indicators and target

  1. To develop agriculture (irrigation, fisheries, aquatic culture, etc.):
  1. To develop waterborne transport and ecotourism:
  1. To develop hydropower:

5.2.6 Existing programmes and existing mechanisms for coordination

  1. Water resources sector: Water supply, water resources conservation, irrigation and drainage works, hydrology and meteorology and agriculture.
  2. Hydropower sector: Relationship between line agencies (Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy); seek local and foreign partnerships for development; cooperation with government and private sector; mobilization of financial resources.
  3. Navigation and ecotourism: Relation among line agencies (Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Ministry of Tourism); relation to promotion of tourism.

5.2.7 Expected roles of MOWRAM

  1. To promote action programme: Water resources work — increase and rehabilitate irrigation systems for all areas; strengthen strategies related to flood control and drought; strengthen hydrological networks and information system urgently; strengthen the use of the irrigation system in a sustainable manner.
  2. Meteorological activities — extend the meteorological network; build capacity on modern instruments.

5.2.8 Proposed priority activities of MOWRAM

  1. Rehabilitate irrigation systems.
  2. Strengthen operation and maintenance of the irrigation system in a sustainable manner.
  3. Build capacity and develop human resources.

5.2.9 Consolidating recommendations

  1. All line agencies should work closely with MOWRAM on the water sector.
  2. Government should give priority to providing financial and budgetary support to MOWRAM.
  3. Request the government to facilitate activities related to the water resources sector.
  4. Request donors to provide priority support to the water resources sector.

5.3 Pilot river basin management (Prek Thnot river basin)

In order to institutionalize integrated water resources management, it is considered important to decentralize that management. Thus, the initiatives of Cambodia in cooperation with Mekong River Commission and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in their capacity building for water resources management of the country should be supported.

On the basis of the current practices of water resources management at the basin level, the working group reviewed current efforts and possible improvement priorities to support the socio-­econom­ic development of the country. On the basis of the discussion, the working group recommended the
Prek Thnot river basin as a pilot river basin in view of its strategic location and the increasing need for better water resources management in the basin and in the capital, Phnom Penh. As a result of the discussion and review of current efforts, the following priority objectives were recommended along with subsequent priority issues and programmes of action:

5.3.1 Objectives

  1. To carry out integrated planning of the river basin, including flood control, hydropower generation and irrigation.
  2. To establish an effective mechanism for river basin management.
  3. To ensure sustainable development of the river basin.

5.3.2 Priority issues

  1. Deforestation and forest conservation.
  2. Lack of public participation.
  3. Lack of budget and human resources development.
  4. No law and regulation on water resources management.
  5. No mechanism for coordination and decentralization.
  6. Electricity cost is highest in the region.

5.3.3 Key actors and agencies

  1. MOWRAM: Main tasks are to establish regulation and law on water resources management; to promote public awareness; and to provide mechanisms for coordinate and decentralization.
  2. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Main task s to strengthen the forest law.
  3. Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy: Main task is to mobilize resources, including grants, aid and private investment for development.

5.3.4 Strategies

  1. Improvement of regulation and law.
  2. Establishment of farmer water user communities and forest communities.
  3. Ensuring financial support from government and donors.
  4. Capacity building and gender mainstreaming in river basin development projects.

5.3.5 Indicators

  1. Total production of the water resources sector.
  2. Total budget investment in the water resources sector.
  3. Conflict prevention in the river basin.

5.3.6 Targets

  1. Double water production in five years.
  2. Private investment promotion over the next thirty years.
  3. Reduced conflict in the river basin within two years.

5.3.7 Priority actions

    a.1 Establish the river basin committee.
    a.2 Mobilize financial support from the government and donors.
    a.3 Strengthen the laws.
    b. Encourage private investment and active participation of beneficiaries in investment.
    c. Establish farmer water user communities.

5.3.8 Existing programmes

The most important existing programmes were identified as those of the Mekong River Commission, especially the following three:

  1. Basin Development Programme.
  2. Water Utilization Programme.
  3. Environmental Programme.

5.3.9 Possible roles of MOWRAM

The expected roles of MOWRAM could be those already defined in the decree on MOWRAM dated 30 June 1999, which includes the following:

  1. Define policies relating to the strategic development of water resources;
  2. conduct research on and investigation of water resources;
  3. prepare plans for water resources development and conservation;
  4. manage direct and indirect water resources use and mitigating water-related disasters;
  5. draft water law and monitoring its implementation;
  6. gather and manage hydro-meteorological and groundwater data, information;
  7. provide technical advice; and
  8. administer international collaboration, including that within the Mekong basin.

5.3.10 Suggested priority activities of MOWRAM

  1. Developing government policies relating to the strategic development of water resources.

5.3.11 Observations/recommendations

All water-related agencies should try their utmost to coordinate their activities and collaborate with each other, particularly on data and information exchange, to achieve integrated water resources management.

5.4 Framework to turn the national water vision into reality

5.4.1 Objectives

The working group focused its discussions not only on the detailed activities of turning the national water vision into reality, but also (and mainly) on establishing a framework to create the conditions for all key stakeholders of the water resources sector to play their proper roles in the implementation of the national water vision. For this purpose, the working group recommended the sustainable development of the basin's natural resources through clearer water resources policies and the mobilization and effective use of resources. Towards these goals, the working group identified the following three priority objectives:

  1. To strengthen the mechanism for coordination of and participation in water resources management and development.
  2. To strengthen human resources development in the water sector.
  3. To improve financial resources mobilization and allocation.

5.4.2 Issues

  1. The policy implementation mechanism:
  1. Human resources development in the water sector:
  1. Problems related to financial resources:

5.4.3 Actors/agencies

The key actors in the water resources sector were identified by the working group to include the following: MOWRAM, Cambodia National Mekong Committee, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, and Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

5.4.4 Possible courses of action and overall strategy

  1. Submit the national water policy to the Council of Ministers for adoption.
  2. Disseminate and enhance the national water policy and water vision among line agencies.
  3. Mobilize financial support to implement the water vision.
  4. Explain the water policy to the other riparian countries and to the Mekong River Commission.
  5. Seek financial support from the line agencies.
  6. Facilitate and promote cooperation between Cambodia and others countries.

On the basis of the above courses of action, the working group proposed a strategy to promote the adoption of the national water vision and to establish a mechanism for turning the vision into reality, including the mobilization of financial resources.

5.4.5 Strategy to strengthen the mechanism for coordination and participation in integrated water resources management

  1. Indicators and targets: To reduce the number of conflicts related to water use and the number of violations of the water law by half within five to ten years.
  2. Priority actions:

5.4.6 Strategy to strengthen human resources development for the water sector

  1. Indicators and targets: To double the number of experts and technical staff in the water sector within five to ten years.
  2. Priority action: To establish a scholarship programme for short and long-term training within the country and abroad.

5.4.7 Strategy to improve financial mobilization and allocation

  1. Indicators and targets: to increase the total investment in the water sector by 30 to
    40 percent within the next five to ten years.
  2. Priority actions:

5.4.8 Existing programmes and responsible agencies

5.4.9 Possible mechanisms for coordination

Existing mechanisms include MOWRAM, Cambodia National Mekong Committee or river basin organizations. The strength of the existing agencies is that the laws and regulations are in place in all line agencies. However, the weaknesses of the existing system are the lack of effective law enforcement, lack of effective and popular mechanisms and means of communication and information dissemination, and lack of financial resources.

5.4.10 Possible roles of MOWRAM

  1. To prepare the enactment of the water law and other regulations.
  2. To maintain and disseminate information and data to the line agencies.
  3. To monitor the implementation process.
  4. To organize the preparation of the master plans for all main river basins in the country.

5.4.11 Suggested priority activities of MOWRAM

  1. To collect, compile and disseminate information and data to the line agencies.
  2. To monitor the implementation process of turning the national water vision into reality.
  3. To organize the master plan for the main pilot river basins in the country.

5.4.12 Recommendation

It is recommended that MOWRAM should focus on strengthening and enforcing the water law, related water regulations and policies.


During the past two years, MOWRAM has undertaken various important studies related to the
formulation of water resources policies and strategy, including the drafting of the water law. These efforts lay down the foundation for the introduction of integrated water resources management into the national development process at national, provincial and local levels. Cooperation with the Global Water Partnership and Southeast Asia Technical Advisory Committee has helped identify detailed programmes of action. The latest joint efforts with UNESCAP and FAO have contributed to streamlining national activities towards more systematic implementation of integrated water resources management at national, provincial and local levels. The round-table workshop has highlighted the following strategic elements in the systematic implementation of integrated water resources management:

  1. All representatives of line ministries and related agencies recognized the importance of the national water vision as a guide for integrated water resources management in all sector activities and at all levels of water resources management in the country. It was also recognized that the enhancement of awareness and acceptance of the national water vision would facilitate coordination of activities among the sectors and at all levels.
  2. All representatives of line ministries and related agencies agreed that MOWRAM should be the key agency responsible for the implementation and realization of the national water vision. In this connection, they identified key activities required to create an effective framework for turning the vision into reality. These activities include those related to the water law, policies and regulations as well as mobilization of resources and participation of the key stakeholders in the management and development of the country's water resources.
  3. The participants recognized the importance of successful implementation of the national water vision in different sectors and for different priorities of the national development process, including poverty reduction and rural development; economic development and nature conservation; pilot basin management for the Prek Thnot river basin; and the establishment of
    a framework to turn the national water vision into reality. The participants could identify indicators and targets as well as the expected role of MOWRAM in facilitating achievement of the proposed targets.
  4. The above findings of these initial efforts raised a number of challenges to MOWRAM as leader of the water sector to meet specific expectations in the national development process, especially with respect to the mobilization and allocation of financial resources to the water sector. These challenges would need to be included in the strategy and programme of work of MOWRAM. The participants therefore expected the continued support of UNESCAP and FAO as well as other international organizations in these tasks.
  5. These findings suggest a new systematic approach to the coordination of the introduction of integrated water resources management in the management of water resources of Cambodia. This systematic approach is centred on the key role of MOWRAM. This is the most important and fundamental difference from the previous findings related to the implementation of the national water vision. In the coming months, efforts should be made to identify the core activities that MOWRAM would undertake to build on the confidence entrusted to the ministry by the representatives of the line ministries and related agencies.
  6. As indicated in the opening message of Mr Ravi Sawhney, Director of the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of UNESCAP, UNESCAP would be willing to include the priority recommendation of the round-table workshop into the implementation of its ongoing project on “Enhancement of capacity on strategic planning and management of natural resources development and environment protection”. The participants hope that UNESCAP assistance would be continued to incorporate these initial findings into the strategic plan of MOWRAM.
  7. Similarly, from the opening statement of Mr Thierry Facon, representative of FAO, the participants expect FAO to continue its assistance to MOWRAM to enable it to keep modernizing its irrigation programme.

In the above context, efforts should be made to introduce a dual approach to the realization of the national water vision:

  1. Overall approach: MOWRAM is to undertake the programmes related to the framework of turning the national water vision into reality and to the implementation of the pilot river basin management.
  2. Sectoral approach: Related subsector agencies are to undertake priority activities related to the programmes on poverty mitigation and rural development, and economic development and nature conservation.


Le, Huu Ti and Thierry Facon. 2001. From Vision to Action: A synthesis of experiences in Southeast Asia. RAP/2001/06, FAO/ESCAP, Bangkok.

Ministry of Planning. 2001. Second Five Year Socioeconomic Development Plan 2001-2005. Ministry of Planning, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

MOWRAM. 2001. Strategic framework for the water sector in Cambodia. Project Report No. 19. ADB TA No. 3292-CAM, Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

MOWRAM. 2001. National Water Resources Strategy. Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. Task Force of the Capacity Building Subcomponent of APIP. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

MOWRAM. 2001. National Water Sector Profile: Kingdom of Cambodia. Project Report No. 7 (Revision 3), Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

MOWRAM. 2002. Report on national workshop on water, public awareness and sustainable development. Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology and National Assembly, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

MOWRAM. 2002. National workshop on defining water resources management issues in Cambodia. Proceedings. Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Annex 2.1
Round-table meeting on
water resources management in Cambodia: Vision to action 




H.E. Bun Hean

General Director

Directorate General of Technical Affairs, MOWRAM

H.E. Ly Ghana

General Director

Directorate General of Administrative Affairs, MOWRAM

H.E. Ney Lon

Deputy Director

General Inspection, MOWRAM

Mr Chuon Bithol

Dep. Gen. Director

Directorate General of Technical Affairs, MOWRAM

Mr Mey Lyhuoth

Dep. Gen. Director

Directorate General of Administrative Affairs, MOWRAM

Mr Prom Saroeun

Dep. Gen. Director

General Inspection, MOWRAM

Mr Le Him Ti



Mr Thierry Facon



Mr Sen Vuthy


Department of Administrative and Human Resources, MOWRAM

Mr Chorng Seng Im


Department of Finance, MOWRAM

Mr Pich Veasna


Department of Planning and International Cooperation

Mr Theng Tara


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Te Navuth


Department of Hydrology and River Works

Ms Seth Vannareth


Department of Meteorology

Mr Te Auv Kim


Department of Irrigated Agriculture

Mr Pang Peng


Department of Water Supply and Sanitation

Mr Em Bunthoeun


Department of Engineering

Mr Kong Sovuthy


Department of Finance, MOWRAM

Mr Te Rompey


Department of Planning and International Cooperation

Mr Am Norin

Deputy Director

Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Thach Sovanna


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Say Sokun


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Saun Sam Aim


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Chea Sophal


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Luy Chanrith


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mrs Pich Maly


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mrs Seum Sokema


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Seng Bunnara


Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation

Mr Yin Thorn


Department of Hydrology and River Works

Mr Kong Rathanak


Department of Meteorology

Mr Noun Chanab


Department of Irrigated Agriculture

Mr Bak Buna


Department of Water Supply and Sanitation

Mr Eng Cheasan


Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Mr Ouk Dara


Ministry of Rural Development

Mr Saun Panarith

Vice Chief

Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy

H.E. Pich Don

Deputy Sec General

Cambodia National Mekong Committee

Mr Sok Saing Im

Senior Officer

Mekong River Commission Secretariat






Chief Advisor of TSC Project

1 The Royal Government's draft Poverty Reduction Strategy also includes significant references to water, principally in terms of rural development.

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