Flooding-induced water pressure caused a wall to collapse in Banteay Meanchey prison yesterday afternoon, instigating a mass evacuation of all inmates to Battambang and Siem Reap provincial prisons.
More than 850 inmates are incarcerated at Banteay Meanchey prison, according to figures released in August, raising concerns among rights groups over the potential for health problems as they are shifted to an already-overcrowded facility.
“Based on prison population numbers given in August of this year, 1,074 prisoners were being held at Battambang prison, 1,211 in Siem Reap and 859 in Banteay Meanchey,” said Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant for rights group Licadho.
Overcrowding in Battambang and Siem Reap prisons is worrisome, said Marie Dominique Parent, a deputy representative of the prison programs for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Battambang is of particular concern, which is why we’re working with relevant authorities to ensure prisoners continue being evacuated safely,” Dominique said yesterday.
Separately, 1,300 families were evacuated in Banteay Meanchey from flood-ravaged villages in Mongkol Borei, according to district governor In Sovichet.
Meanwhile, more than 60,000 Cambodians evacuated in the past two weeks are at risk of water-related disease outbreaks exacerbated by poor hygiene and sanitation conditions, aid agencies said.
Sonny Krishnan, communications officer for the World Health Organization in Cambodia, highlighted the risk of an increase in respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases, but stressed that exact numbers would be released by the Ministry of Health next week.
“The second assessment is currently under way to fully assess the health needs of the affected populations so we can determine what exactly needs to be distributed in each area. Surveillance systems for diseases such as influenza are on full alert,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan also noted that a team had been deployed from Phnom Penh to investigate the “influenza-like” outbreak in Mondulkiri’s Koh Nhek district.
“The problem is getting access to the district, because the area is 120 kilometres inland and the roads are severely damaged by the flooding,” Krishnan said.
Pagodas and schools have been transformed into makeshift evacuation zones in waterlogged provinces and are quickly becoming sites to distribute relief supplies, according to Jason Evans, World Vision Cambodia’s national director.
“We are distributing food items, water filters and water purification sachets, installing latrines and rubbish bins in the non-flooded areas where people move to,” Evans said.
Flooding initially hit 10 provinces in late September but has spread to 10 additional provinces as overflowing dams and flash floods are caused by heavy rainfall, according to the National Committee for Disaster Management.
More than 1.5 million people have been affected and at least 104 have died.