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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Flood damage put at $200m

Flood damage put at $200m

L ETHAL floods which hit the country's south and west have caused $200 million in damage, according to Secretary of State for the Environment Dr Mok Mareth. As the Post went to press the official death toll was put at six with 142,000 people made homeless.

Dr Mareth said: "The floods have caused damage with an estimated cost of $200 million. This is worse than the 1991 floods which caused $150 million."

According to an Aug 8 Information Ministry press release the worst flooding has occurred in three districts in Battambang, where 187 houses have been swept away, six people have been killed, and 57,000 hectares of rice fields were submerged.

Other badly affected provinces, according to the press release, include Kompong Speu, Kampot and Kandal, where in total 25,000 hectares of cultivated land were flooded, 33 houses were destroyed and irrigation canals were damaged in 32 places.

Thousands of farm animals had been drowned in Kompong Speu, Takeo and Kandal, according to the release.

The flooding had hit 19 villages in Phnom Penh with 7,000 families left homeless and 600 houses damaged as of Aug 6.

Secretary of State for the Environment Dr Mok Mareth told the Post the flooding was receding in most areas. He explained how the disaster has occurred.

"Heavy rain which started on July 30 poured onto Phnom Dongrek and Damrei mountain ranges which stretch from Kampot to Battambang," Dr Mareth said.

"The water swept down the mountains and ran in a northeasterly direction across the provinces emptying into the Tonle Sap and Basaac rivers."

The Ministry of Information press release said Tonle Bassac River was rising by 11 cm per day as of Aug 8 as it took on the flood waters.

But he said he expected some of the rice crop in flooded areas to survive because it had only been covered in water for a few days. But he added that much of the devastation that has occurred had not yet been reported.

Dr Mareth blamed the growing problem of flooding on deforestation: "Forests can absorb 20 to 40 percent of the rain water and the trees reduce the speed of the water pouring down the mountains. Pre 1970 the country's forest coverage was over 73 percent but because of logging it has been reduced to 50 percent."

He said the situation was worse in Vietnam and Thailand, which only have 10-15 percent of their forests remaining.

Dr Mareth said the monsoon season in the Indian Ocean generated on average 30 storms per year, some of which pass over Cambodia. He expected they might cause further flooding this year.

Nouv Kanun, an adviser to Co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Secretary of State to the Council of Ministers, said: "The government has released 600 tonnes of rice seed and $400,000 in emergency aid relief for the flood victims.

"I thought our government would face this problem. But I am very happy that local and international NGOs have been so helpful and taken off the government much of the burden in managing the relief effort, especially in Battambang."

On Aug 7 King Sihanouk sent a letter to Cambodians in which he expressed his grief over their continual suffering at the hands of natural disasters, war and banditry. The King appealed for aid for the flood victims.

Some of the worst flooding occured in Samrong Tong District in Kompong Speu. There 45-year-old father-of-six Sen Cheng said: "On the night of Aug 1 I went to sleep and was woken in the middle of the night by the village chief who told us to move to higher ground.

"The floods had already arrived and villagers were panicking. I was surprised to see when I awoke that my chickens and rice crop had been swept away by the water. I watched my small pig drown.

"I was unable to move to high ground as I have six small children and the highway was far away."

As of Aug 3 Cheng is trapped with his family in his house standing on 1.3 meter high stilts, 4 km from the Route 4 highway. The water level is one meter high around his house. He says: "The family has a small reserve of rice to live off which will run out in a few weeks." Ironically he adds: "The family is desperately short of fresh drinking water."

Other Samrong Tong villagers were chopping down banana trees to make boats to transport themselves to higher ground.

Some people were crowded into friends' houses on higher level ground. Many others have been evacuated to schools, Wats and highways.

Evacuee Ou Thung, 71, said: "The front of my house faced the stream of water. When I awoke the water was already at my bed.

"I put sticks against the back wall of my house and pressed them into the ground at a 45 degree angle to brace the house against the current.

"But it was useless. My house was swept away. I did not expect the floods to arrive so quickly and be so strong."

But the ordeal wasn't just caused by the flooding. Thung said: "The snakes were a real problem. They bit my friend while he was packing his belongings."

Kompong Speu's Deputy Governor Dim Sokhom said about 50 percent of his province had been hit by the floods. But levels were subsiding with water flowing to lower-lying land in Takeo and Kandal provinces, he said on Aug 3.

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