KOH TA KIEV, Preah Sihanouk province (Khmer Times) – People sought cover as the weather on Koh Ta Kiev changed with surprising speed. The sky, previously clear and blue, darkened to gray in seconds as the heavens opened. Soon, the beach was battered with horizontal rain and strong winds.
Tracy, a cafe worker from New Zealand, scrambled to keep her bar’s beach furniture from flying away. A veteran of the coast’s rainy season, she shouted above the noise of the wind: “This is good practice for us! This kind of dramatic weather is going to become more frequent!”
Worsening Climate Situation
Coastal residents are bracing for a difficult rainy season this year. Experts warn that global climate change will hit Southeast Asia harder than other regions.
Cambodia is considered Southeast Asia’s country most vulnerable to climate change, alongside the Phillipines, according to the International Development Research Center. Rural coastal populations are particularly at risk.
Hundreds of millions of people, the majority from Southeast Asia and South Asia, are to face “very high impacts” in coming years from the world’s changing climate, according to recent United Nation reports.
Despite the challenge of preparing for the unpredictable, residents of coastal Cambodia are warned by experts to prepare for potentially dangerous climate events. Shortages of clean water, extreme flooding, mudslides, higher sea levels and potentially destructive storms are of particular concern, according to the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance.
Global climate change has disrupted weather patterns previously typical to Southeast Asia. So the message from experts is to prepare for everything except snowstorms.
Infrastructure Not Prepared for Torrential Downpours
Heavy rain and the flooding of roads and properties plague residents in coastal towns like Kampot and Sihanoukville. Failure of sewage systems are big worries in communities. As reported last week by Khmer Times, heavy rain downpours in Sihanoukville provoke overflows of sewage waste into such public spaces as streets, sidewalks and beaches.
One Sihanoukville businessman spoke of his frustration over the lack of storm and sewer drains.
“Despite all businesses paying taxes to the municipality, the drains still haven’t improved, and every rainy season the roads flood and sewage overflows,” he said.
Business Owners Brace for Weather
Guesthouses, bars and restaurants take measures to protect customers from gale winds and rain.
“Making guests feel safe is important,” says Neil, a native of Northern Ireland who manages an eco-resort on Koh Ta Kiev. “Many of the storms that pass are not dangerous, but making sure customers know they’re in safe hands is a priority.”
Businesses also try to mitigate economic impacts of the dreaded “low season.” They brainstorm on how to entertain guests on rainy days.
Cambodian Islands Prepared and Vigilant
On Koh Ta Kiev, Will, from California, watched the horizon as the brief storm cleared. He recalled how he and his colleagues prepared last year on Ostres Beach for typhoons that were battering neighboring Vietnam at the time.
“We started to prepare for them if they hit Cambodia,” he said. “Thankfully, they never made it to our coast. But we still got our share of brutal storms, erratic tides and flooding.”
Extreme weather along Cambodia’s coast punishes beach-front businesses during the rainy season. But islands are even more vulnerable due to their isolation.
“Working closely with the locals and staying in touch with the mainland is essential,” says Neil. “We listen carefully to people, who have basically worked on these seas their whole lives, our boat captain, for example. Meanwhile, we keep a close eye and ear on what’s happening elsewhere.”
Staying vigilant is key, says Matthew, owner of an isolated guesthouse and bar called The Last Point on the island.
“It’s less developed and much more secluded here, so we’re more exposed to the weather,” he said. “Transport to the mainland is the biggest obstacle, because we won’t sail when the seas are too rough.”
In the event of a extremely dangerous weather event, Matthew is confident his trained staff and Royal Cambodian Navy ships stationed nearby in Ream will keep guests safe.
“If we’re expecting a really big storm, we can either batten down the hatches and ride it out – our structures are well built and safe – or, in a worst case scenario, the Navy could help us evacuate everybody to the mainland very quickly,” he said.
Ream Naval Base is only three kilometers away, on the mainland.