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Floods not yet an ‘emergency’

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Phea Rith, 15, uses a pole to navigate a raft through floodwaters in Kandal province this week.

Although as many as 79,000 families  in Prey Veng province alone face chronic food shortages for the next year due to the loss of their rice crops, the government has yet to declare the worst flooding to hit the Kingdom in more than a decade to be a national emergency.

Such a declaration would open channels for more and swifter delivery of aid to the more than one million Cambodians affected by around two months of flooding, tens of thousands of who are in immediate need of aid, relief workers said yesterday. But Keo Vy, director of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that the “government has the ability to handle this, so it should not declare a national emergency”.

Kim Rattana, executive director of Caritas, described the flooding as Cambodia’s “worst natural disaster” in more than a decade and said it was far more devastating than typhoon Ketsana.

In 2009, Ketsana claimed 43 lives and displaced 66,000 people, primarily in Kampong Thom province. This year’s flooding has killed 247 people and affected more than one million people in 17 provinces, Kim Rattana said, adding that the floodwaters were receding at the slowest pace they  had  seen. “We do not have an estimate of the number of families who have yet to receive aid” in Kampong Thom, he said, adding that water levels were still rising there yesterday.

People who have fled submerged villages for higher ground have only received one delivery of aid, he said.

“The flooding is getting worse,” he said, echoing a warning from the United Nation’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos on Saturday who pointed to rising river levels and forecasts for more heavy rainfall in the region. The UN and partners “stand ready to support” governments in the region, she said.  

The tourist town of Siem Reap was also inundated yesterday for the fifth time since August, following heavy rainfall on Sunday night. Deputy governor Kim Chhay Heang said the tourism industry was suffering with some large hotels having to pump water out their premises, and shops and restaurants closing temporarily.

Deputy governor Bun Tharith said the rice fields of about 26,000 families in the province had been damaged by the flooding. Of these, about 17,000 families were in need of urgent aid but only about 9,000 families had received some. Bill Pennington, assistant country director for Care Cambodia, estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 households in the province of Prey Veng were in need of immediate aid. Between 15,000 to 20,000 of them would receive aid from international NGOs, including Care, Caritas and Save the Children. An estimated 79,000 families in the province, or about one-quarter of a million people, faced food shortages due to the loss of rice crops, he said.

Keo Vy said that the Cambodian Red Cross, rather than the NCDM, was overseeing relief efforts nationally. He said the government had selected the CRC, which is run by the prime minister’s wife, to take responsibility for the flooding because it had the resources, and people working at every level of each province. “They … also handle problems very fast,” he said.
Uy Sam Ath, director of CRC’s Disaster Management unit, said the budget for food aid for flood victims was larger this year than it was for cyclone Ketsana, but declined to give a figure.
Meanwhile, the Cambodia Microfinance Association will have a meeting at the end of the month to discuss how the flooding will impact its 30 members, most of which have given loans to farmers ahead of the planting season, its executive director Si Len said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THIK KALIYANN

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