Keo lives on a small farm near Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, and what he is doing is equally venerable: dowsing, or divining for water, to help his family get through Southeast Asia’s most brutal drought in decades.
He paces across his dry patch of land with the rods held loosely at one end, close to his chest, waiting for the opposite ends to start moving apart, indicating (he hopes) the presence of moisture. When this happens, he drills into the ground at the indicated spot. If he finds water—and Keo says he often does—he’ll use it for his crops. Two weeks ago, he says, a Korean nongovernmental organization trained him in the method. There’s no real science behind water dowsing, however, and most experts are not convinced that it’s the answer to Asia’s water crisis. “My auntie used to swear by it, but I’m not sure it’s better than just drilling five holes,” says Jeremy Bird, director-general of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). “You’ll find water in lots of places, but the main thing is how long it will last, and no diviner can tell you that.”