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Podcast: Gender, poverty affect irrigation water access in Cambodia

SEI researchers found that inequalities in Cambodia’s irrigation water access are often reinforced by differences in gender, location and income.

SEI Senior Scientist Laura Forni joined The Asia Foundation for a podcast to discuss the findings of her study and possible solutions to help achieve more equitable access to irrigation water.

Lynsi Burton / Published on 11 January 2022

Rice is a critical crop in Cambodia, providing farmers both income and food security, and it depends on wet season rainfall and dry season irrigation to thrive.

Historically, the region experienced abundant water supply in the wet season, benefiting rice production. With export-driven rice demands, dry season production increased over time, causing water shortages intensified by climate change. Recent research by SEI scientists identified a major challenge affecting water access for rice and domestic use at the intersection of poverty and gender.

The research determined that women, rural residents and people with less access to decision-making and information on water allocation typically suffer most.

These findings were recently highlighted in a blog post and podcast published by The Asia Foundation, which funded the study along with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Sustainable Water Partnership, and whose researchers co-authored the article.

The study focused on the Stung Chinit watershed, located in the rural Kampong Thom Province. Researchers conducted a literature review, stakeholder interviews and a survey of 812 households in the watershed. Using Sida’s Multidimentional Poverty Analysis framework (MDPA), scientists found that women have less access to irrigation water than men and have less say in how their local water districts allocate the water.

The survey also indicated that men are better represented than women at Farmer Water User Communities (FWUC) meetings where water allocation is discussed and that women do not speak up as much as men do to voice their needs. Because of the patriarchal culture in the region, women typically serve domestic roles, such as caring for the family, and gathering water, which can consume up to three hours per day. There is also a gender imbalance in receiving information on water supply.

“When there’s the pressure to go and fetch water for your family and yourself and your house, that takes time from other activities,” said SEI Senior Scientist Laura Forni, the lead author of the study, in The Asia Foundation’s podcast. “In addition to not having a voice, spending time collecting water prevents women from other activities.”

This research has prompted The Asia Foundation to pilot an initiative to foster more equitable water allocation. The Asia Foundation’s pilot plans to equip FWUCs for more participatory decision-making and improve access to information for male and female farmers alike.

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