A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Worries about long-term flood fallout

More than 1 million people were affected and at least 247 lost their lives due to weeks of heavy flooding in October 2011. In Cambodia, Mekong River water levels continue to rise, resulting in difficulties to gain access to the affected communities in the rural areas (Photo: Brendan Brady/IRIN)

October 17, 2011
by AHN
Kratie Province, Cambodia (IRIN) – Severe flooding across Cambodia poses serious risks to the country’s food security, according to NGOs.

Flooding has spread across 17 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces, killing 247 people, forcing the evacuation of more than 34,000 households, and destroying some 200,000 hectares of rice fields, which comprise nearly 10 percent of the country’s harvest, according to the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) , a government agency.

It said flood damage, including destruction of more than 1,000 schools and some 2,400 kilometers of roads, would exceed that caused by devastating floods in 2000, which cost US$161 million in damage.

Leh Smah, 62, said a third of residents in his community, Chhoer Teal Plun Village in Kratie Province in the northeast, had lost large parts or all of their rice harvest.

The 20-kilogram rice sacks donated to affected families by the Red Cross will last a week, he said. “Soon they will be out of food again and will have to purchase food on credit unless they receive more aid.”

More than 80,000 families have received aid, according to the NCDM.

Francis Perez, head of Oxfam in Cambodia, said flood relief varied by province, with robust assistance in most areas but there were still “huge pockets where emergency response has been very inadequate”.

The southeastern province of Prey Vey in particular, he said, had received far less flood relief than other provinces and some communities were facing food shortages.


The longer-term impact of the flooding remains uncertain but, says Rosaleen Martin, a spokesperson for the UN World Food Program, there are widespread concerns over food security.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last week that the government would create a $100 million fund for relief and rehabilitation but no details have been given on how this money would be managed.

The Agriculture Ministry says it plans to distribute rice seeds to flood-affected communities to help offset losses from destroyed crops.

In a move to stabilize rice prices, which began to rise because of the flood, government authorities released 120 metric tons of government-stocked milled rice on to the market on 16 October.

A spokesperson for the UN Disaster Management Team in Cambodia said the group was drafting a proposal for an emergency fund that would include assistance for emergency relief and the rehabilitation of destroyed fields.

Oxfam’s Perez said that because of losses to their rice harvest, farmers would likely turn to borrowing, which is commonly done at usury rates “that drive people into a risky cycle”.

Health risks

Health officials say the flooding had prolonged the dengue fever season: 54 children have died from the disease in the first nine months of this year, compared with 28 in 2010, according to the government’s National Dengue Control Program.

Dengue outbreaks are spurred by heavy rain, which forms pools that harbor the eggs of mosquitoes carrying the disease.

Other health risks associated with flooding include water-borne diseases spurred by damage to toilet and drinking water facilities, as well as respiratory infections and measles.

The UN and a number of NGOs were coordinating with government agencies to provide water purification tablets, ceramic water filters and jerry cans for safe water storage.

Nima Asgari, a public health specialist with the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said no signs had yet emerged of disease outbreaks in affected communities.

The main task for health officials is to restore emergency health services, including assisted birthing, to affected communities.

The UN Children’s Fund is releasing funding for rural government health offices to form mobile teams to travel to families cut off from regular healthcare access because of the floods, said Richard Bridle, the group’s country representative.

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