A GREATER portion of Cambodia’s population is vulnerable to flooding than that of any other country in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a report assessing the impact of disasters.
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2010, released yesterday at a conference in South Korea by the United Nations, cites databases indicating that 12.2 percent of Cambodia’s population is exposed to flooding, followed closely by Bangladesh with 12.1 percent. Vietnam was third with 3.9 percent.
In absolute terms, Cambodia was the fifth-most-affected country, with 1.7 million residents exposed to flooding. Bangladesh topped this list with 19.2 million, followed by India (15.8 million), China (3.9 million) and Vietnam (3.4 million).
The release of the report came as Cambodian officials said 17,648 families faced food shortages as a result of flooding that began on October 10.
Also yesterday, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said the issues of disaster management and climate change would be “highest on the agenda of ASEAN” as leaders from the 10-member bloc prepared to meet in Hanoi this week.
“We are all suffering from the problems of climate irregularities,” Surin said in a briefing that was broadcast via videolink at the World Bank office in Phnom Penh. “It is now flooded in the dry season and drought in the rainy season, and people are not prepared.
A press release accompanying the UN report noted that it was the first regional assessment of disasters and their effects. “As a region highly prone to natural disasters with disproportionate impacts on human development, and facing new threats from climate change, the Asia-Pacific region has surprisingly lacked a comprehensive regional assessment of disasters,” the statement said.
The report said Cambodia recorded 30 natural disasters from 1980 to 2009, and that these had resulted in 1,969 deaths and affected 16 million people. Damage from these disasters cost US$518 million.
Francis Perez, country director in Cambodia for the international relief agency Oxfam, said yesterday that the report’s findings on the country’s vulnerability to flooding were sound. “A lot of Cambodians live near rivers or basins for their livelihood, and as such are vulnerable to flash floods,” he said. “[The figure] may even be more than that.”
Just 1.3 percent of Thailand’s population was at risk of flooding, and Perez said the difference came down to infrastructure. “There is not enough infrastructure to regulate water levels in Cambodia,” he said. “There are no flood gates, there are some dykes but they only protect Phnom Penh.”
Local officials said yesterday that recent flooding had resulted in at least six deaths by drowning.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE AND BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA