K on Thnaut Hamlet, Kompong Thom - Daily survival for the Luon family seeking a
threadbare living in this drought-stricken hamlet rests on the mechanical
dependency of two rusty bicycles used to collect firewood.
In common with
many Cambodian villagers living in Kompong Thom, the family is battling to stave
off the combined effects of flood and drought which has caused devastating
failure of this year's rice harvest.
Kompong Thom is among the worst
affected provinces but others have also been badly hit, particularly Prey Veng
and Svay Rieng east of the Mekong River.
Humanitarian aid agencies say
the failure of the rice harvest will require the importation of at least 90,000
tonnes of rice to offset starvation among the hard-hit rural communities. The
European Community, Japan and Australia have been quick to donate tens of
thousands of tonnes of the food staple.
"We don't have any cattle and we
don't have ploughs or rice seed. It is very hard for us to live. We have to find
firewood to exchange for rice," said 55-year-old Leng Luon, head of a family of
Luon's home is a squalid, one-room thatch hut on stilts lying on
Route 12, just north of Kompong Thom town.
"This year is the worst. We
have to find young bamboo to mix with rice for our food," Luon said.
the sweltering still evenings the family supplement their menu by catching
plump, juicy crickets and spiders to add to their meal of thin rice
But on most days breakfast, lunch and dinner consists of broken
rice mixed with salt and prahok, a preserved fish paste.
Every ten days
the family saves enough cash to buy several small fish to supplement their diet,
said Luon's wife, Theng Bi, 48.
Ironically much of Kompong Thom province
is green from early monsoon rains and appears fertile, but the countryfolk are
despairing because they have no rice seed to plant.
"Last year we did
plant rice but we lost the harvest due to flood and drought," said
He said he went out into the forests every day with his neighbor to
forage for firewood which he could sell for about 2,000 riel (80
"Almost everyone in this village collects firewood for rice," he
Their plight is echoed in other districts in the province where
impoverished families struggle in the fight to find food.
In Phum Krasang
on National Route 6, 32-year-old Peang, a mother of two, looks at a tray of palm
fruit cakes drying in the sun which she hopes to barter in exchange for
"If I lose this capital I'll have nothing to eat. We rely on this
business," she told the Post.
She said the 2,000 riel earned from selling
the cakes would be "enough to pay for one meal, then I'll do it (cook)
Her husband had been fortunate to find temporary work as a
ploughman but the family had borrowed rice seed on the promise that they would
double the amount of seed as repayment.
"We will borrow 84 kilograms of
rice seed but we have to pay double back," said Peang.
with the Cambodian Red Cross, the World Food Programme has started a "Food for
Work" self-help scheme to assist the worst affected villagers in Kompong
At Phum Tankok near the border with Kompong Cham about 150
villagers from two hamlets have nearly completed excavation of a fish breeding
The villagers are paid between three to five kilograms of rice in
exchange for digging one cubic metre of clay.
The work site swarms with
villagers, their heads shaded from the intense heat by kramas.
the pond excavation closely resembles a scene from Pol Pot's Killing Fields
years of the 1970s where entire communities were mobilised on canal digging
Taking a break from his paddy hoe, one grizzled old villager
called Neang said, "We just want rice to eat and rice seed to plant."