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Floods prompt fears of food crisis

THREE weeks after Typhoon Ketsana ploughed through 11 provinces in Cambodia, the slow pace of relief work and the effects of widespread flooding have prompted fears of a looming food crisis, the international aid agency Oxfam said Tuesday.

In a statement, Oxfam warned “the hunger period has been prolonged.... Food assistance is not being delivered quickly enough to the affected communities and thousands of families who are in need of urgent food assistance are still marooned in floodwaters”.

Oxfam’s country head in Cambodia, Francis Perez, said: “People in the flood-affected regions needed food a month ago, and they are still waiting for food.”

“Government bodies and international aid agencies concerned with the current situation must start delivering food assistance now” he added.

What Oxfam describes as the imminent danger of food shortages has compelled the organisation to switch from delivering non-food items to
5,000 families in the hardest-hit provinces of Kampong Thom, Kratie and Stung Treng to distributing food aid to 1,000 families.

The need for aid was acknowledged on Tuesday by other relief organisations, including the Cambodian Red Cross and the National Committee for Disaster Management, but they insisted distribution efforts were on track.

Kim Rattana, executive director of Caritas International, said that by next week it would start delivering aid to 600 families in Preah Vihear province and 600 in Ratanakkiri. It also hopes to reach some of the 2,000 families in Kampong Thom, which felt the full force of the storm when it made landfall in Cambodia. “Kampong Thom will have a big gap,” he said.

About 70,000 families have been provided for by the CRC, according to director for disaster management Uy Sam Ath. “So far, no villagers have died of starvation,” he said. “Our food supplies have enough to relieve the most vulnerable for the first month, and we are preparing food for three additional months.”

Oxfam, Caritas and a growing network of other NGOs are working with the Cambodian government on a plan for sustainable recovery – including restoration of farmland and rebuilding of homes, roads, water facilities and schools – as they continue to distribute emergency provisions.

Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have expressed concerns that Cambodia could face food shortages in 2010 in the absence of effective long-term recovery plans.

Khim Chenda, director of the ministry’s Department of Administration, said that officials were “concerned that some provinces like Ratanakkiri and Preah Vihear, and some districts in Kampong Thom province, may face food shortages, as these provinces do not have the water resources to grow rice in the dry season.”

The Ketsana damage assessment released on Friday by the NCDM reported that 53,325 hectares of rice and 3,026 hectares of other crops had been destroyed in 11 provinces.

The financial cost of the disaster was estimated to be about US$41 million, but officials expect that figure to rise.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, remained optimistic.

“The yield of rice for 2009 may be the same or only a little less than the 5 million tonnes” harvested in 2008, he said. He also said he hoped that, after the floodwaters receded, this year’s dry-season rice yield would even be better than last year’s.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG AND TEP NIMOL

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