Iconic Angkor Wat Threatened
Angkor Wat is a 12th century temple complex near Siem Reap, Cambodia. A huge tourist draw, it gets close to two million tourists every year. And of course, that means many fancy hotels to house them and many not-so-fancy ones too. The city of Siem Reap is burgeoning and eager to please. Sounds rosy? And yet there is a sinister warning here.
Population in Siem Reap has doubled over ten years and water, especially in the dry season, is a precious commodity. The dry season is also when the tourists are the most. As a result, Siem Reap is putting enormous pressure on the groundwater system. It is suspected to be drawing over five times the amount of water it has been allowed to draw.
But let’s step back and first see how this connects to Angkor Wat, and why it is so famous.
What is Angkor Wat?
The temple of Angkor Wat is a symbol of Cambodia and is even on its flag. It is a very interesting temple, being the only one in Cambodia dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. It is also the only temple that faces west. No one quite knows why, since this flies in the face of traditional east facing temples. The name Angkor Wat means “City Temple” – Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word “nagar” meaning “city” and Wat is Khmer (the native Cambodian language) for “temple.“ It was built as King Suryavarman II’s state temple and its sprawling complex with amazing relief carvings and intricate deities, has become one of the most visited temples in Asia.
Angkor Wat is built on a mixture of sand and water that holds it up. The water rises and falls with the seasons and is essential to the structure above it. But of late, the water is being pumped out to the artificial forests created around the five-star hotels. Moreover there are numerous illegal pumps across the city of Siem Reap extracting many thousands of liters of groundwater for daily use.
What could happen?
The issue is that there is no way of knowing just how much water is being pumped out. And worse still, even the experts are unsure as to how much can be taken out without damaging the structure of the temple complex. If too much water is pumped out of the sand, the level of the sand could fall. Since the complex is not one solid block, even a slight change in the ground level could cause serious cracks and even trigger a collapse in the temple structure.
While no damage has yet been done, experts warn that the threat is very real. The authorities would do well to think ahead and plan for water supplies so that a collapse of the iconic temple does not come to pass.