Although floodwaters are receding, an unknown number of villages in several provinces remain accessible only by boat, and the extent of the damage has yet to be fully assessed, according to aid workers and the latest “situation update” from the United Nations Disaster Management Team.
“In the two provinces of Prey Veng and Kampong Cham, the most affected districts are still under water and unreachable by road,” the November 18 update said.
Anlong Chrey village in Kampong Cham province’s Batheay district, for example, remains an islet that takes more than an hour to reach by boat.
It had been entirely submerged for about a month, after the Mekong River, eight kilometres to the west, and the Tonle Sap River, 35 kilometres to the east, overflowed their banks and converged in mid-September, residents said.
The inland sea created by the rivers was falling, but remained more than two metres deep and was unlikely to dry up for another month or two, they said.
“If people in Phnom Penh think the flooding is over, please invite them to my village,” Chheum Chean, 13, said.
The Grade 4 student was speaking at a temporary learning centre set up by the NGO Save the Children and the provincial department of education. It has 80 students from four grades. When asked if they were hungry, about three-quarters of them raised their hands.
About 30 per cent of the village’s residents had left in search of work, leaving their children with relatives or neighbours, deputy village chief Thorn Theun said. Other residents of the village said the number was closer to 70 per cent.
The UN’s situation update said “there has been no new data since NCDM’s data of 28 October”, referring to the National Committee for Disaster Management, which some relief workers have criticised for what they describe as its failure to co-ordinate relief efforts at the national level.
Keo Vy, chief of cabinet at the NCDM, yesterday denied it had fallen short, saying its response had been swift and that some villages had already received two deliveries of aid. He also told the Post the data had not been updated because there had been no change in it.
About 10 per cent of the country’s population, 1.64 million people, have been directly affected by the flooding, according to the NCDM, and about 260,000 evacuated.
Keo Vy said most of these people had returned to their villages and would require assistance for another two to three months before they could support themselves.
The World Food Program, however, was preparing a year-long emergency operation for families who had no food, the situation update said.
It also said efforts to improve co-ordination in the water and sanitation sector were under way following a meeting on November 3 that had found “provincial level co-ordination and monitoring of disease outbreaks were weak”.
An increase in acute diarrhoea cases above the threshold level had been detected in the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Kampong Thom, it said.
According to an analysis of preliminary data from an assessment conducted earlier this month by Unicef, “children are suffering from psychosocial distress . . . they are scared of the water and worried about the future”.
A flood-impact assessment conducted by Save the Children in 20 villages of Prey Veng and Kampong Cham provinces also raised concern that the flooding would lead to an increase in child labour and migration of adolescent girls in search of work.
Soy Chet, 16, is among those most vulnerable. She lives alone in Anlong Chrey village in a hut surrounded by knee-deep water. Although orphaned three years ago, she managed to remain in school and support herself prior to the flood.
When the water rose above the floor, she became dependent on neighbours to deliver her food because she had no boat. She hopes to finish Grade 6, but does not know what she will do after that. Soy Chet’s neighbours said they could no longer afford to help her.
Residents of the village say it may take them two years to recover from the floods.