Household Resilience in Cambodia: A Review of Livelihoods, Food Security and Health - Part 1: 2015/2016 El Niño Situation Analysis

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The 2015/ 2016 global El Niño event was officially declared in March 2015, peaked in December 2015 and came to an end in May 2016. It resulted in unseasonably low precipitation levels and increases in temperature by as much as 3 degrees Celsius on average. These weather abnormalities have resulted in what has been characterized as “the worst drought in 50 years” for Southeast Asia.

The hotter and drier conditions experienced during the 2015/2016 El Niño event placed significant stress on households throughout the country. Numerous anecdotal reports emerged of crop losses, with many households needing to re invest in seeds and other inputs to replant. Likewise, it was noted that in certain parts of the country, fish stocks were suffering from the prolonged period of lower than normal precipitation and from the extreme heat.

The situation deteriorated significantly in April 2016 with prolonged reductions in rainfall translating to widespread water shortages for households throughout the country. According to the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), 2.5 million people across 18 provinces were severely impacted, with parts of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Pursat provinces amongst the most affected.

The severity of the situation triggered a nationwide response. Targeted distribution of drinking water began in the last week of April with up to 5 million liters of water delivered per day to the most affected provinces. Complementing the Royal Government’s efforts, UN agencies, NGOs and the Cambodia Red Cross also provided targeted water distribution to communities as well as to affected health care centers and schools. Alongside water distributions, UN agencies and NGOs redirected routine development programming towards affected communities, with a focus on rehabilitation of water sources such as wells and community ponds.

The significant nationwide response by the Royal Government of Cambodia, which officially ended at the end of May 2016, as well as the timely arrival of the 2016 rainy season has alleviated the acute concerns over household water shortages.

Any impacts on livelihoods, however, may be felt for the coming months and years. Consequently, WFP, UNICEF and FAO, in collaboration with the NCDM and Provincial Committees for Disaster Management (PCDMs) agreed to conduct a series of three nationwide household surveys over the course of 2016 and 2017 which will enable a better understanding as to how households are impacted by and recover from shocks, with the aim being to better understand household risks and vulnerabilities in order to inform resilience building efforts throughout the country. The surveys will also provide an evidence -base that can be tapped into by organizations that would like to explore particular issues impacting households.

The first of the three surveys, the El Niño Situation Analysis, was conducted in May 2016 to provide a baseline food security and livelihoods analysis as the El Niño period concludes. Follow up surveys will be conducted in December 2016 and May 2017 to assess the extent to which normality has returned and better understand the strategies and mechanisms that enable households to recoup their losses.