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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government to streamline food aid as hunger hits the provinces

Government to streamline food aid as hunger hits the provinces

SENIOR Ministry of Rural Development staff have been

meeting this week to try to improve rice aid distribution

methods and targeting in an effort to alleviate serious

pockets of death and disease due to malnutrition in the

countryside.

Some rural Cambodians are being driven to taking

desperate measures to survive including selling their

children, eating poisonous plants, becoming indebted with

usurious interest rates and, in one reported case, the

murder of an entire family by the mother.

Authorities have said that the pre-rice harvest food

shortages are no worse than any other year but a

combination of circumstances have led to intense

suffering and deaths in pockets of Cambodia.

The Cambodian Red Cross said that it no longer had

rice to distribute even for emergency aid.

The Ministry of Rural Development, which works with

the World Food Program administering its food for work

program, admitted it had failed to reach some people who

were in desperate need.

Under-Secretary of State Ngy Chanpal said that they

pre-select areas immediately after the previous rice

harvest where they think there will be shortages during

the next harvest, and gear up aid programs and community

work schemes there.

He said in some cases they did not get it right and

when a privation occurs in an area not targeted it can

take more than two months to rectify. He said it was this

lead time they were trying to reduce as well as creating

a more efficient emergency relief program.

But he added that overall the ministry was successful

in aiding rural communities. He said it had assisted more

than one million people.

"The situation is serious but not really serious.

It is a problem of pockets," he said.

While the ministry still had rice in storage it was

committed to work for food programs. However Chanpal said

this week's donation of 16-tons of rice by Japan, worth

$8.5m, should provide relief till the next rice harvest.

However he warned that until the government was formed

there would continue to be serious problems in obtaining

international aid.

He was particularly critical of opposition politicians

who had urged organizations like the Asia Development

Bank to cease aid.

"What is their idea for poverty eradication? Kill

all the poor?" he said.

Meanwhile life for the people who have run out of rice

is looking grim, particularly with the rice harvest

having being severely delayed by a lack of rain.

In Kampong Thom, one of the worst affected areas, WFP

staff said at least 13 people have died due to disease

worsened by malnutrition.

Human rights group Adhoc is also investigating a case

there of a woman who poisoned her two children and

husband because she did not want to watch them starve any

longer.

Kao Chheng Huor, WFP program assistant in Kampong Thom

and Preah Vihear said that in Veal Veng village of Prasat

Sambo district most of the people are malnourished,

especially the young.

She said WFP had been providing food to Stung, Prasat

Sambo, Kampong Svay, Santok, Prasat Balang and Sandan

districts. She said the worst affected areas were Stung

and Prasat Balang.

Only about one in five villagers had some food left.

She said some had been surviving by foraging for yam and

cassava tubers.

However that has proved fatal for some. A military

officer in the Poupok commune said one family died from

poisoning after not having properly cleaned cassava.

Kampong Thom authorities say that in Stung more than

30,000 villagers had run out of rice.

Chap Mil, a deputy chief of Stung district, said that

Trea commune was one of the poorest villages because last

year's rice crop was not good.

One of those villagers, Plouk Chup, 83 - who was

waiting with his grandchildren for their father to go and

find some yams some 10 kms from their home - said at meal

times the old people waited until the children had eaten,

then they got what was left.

Roeun Sa Am, 40, from Stung district cried as she

described trying to survive. She and others picked forest

fruit and tried selling them at the market to buy rice.

"We have never had difficulties like this

year," she said. "We cry when our children are

eating [cassava tubers and yams] and think it will be

worse next year because this year there has been drought

and the cows and buffaloes have died."

An Adhoc investigator, who asked not to be named, said

that many people had started to eat their rice seed which

would cause problems next year.

She added that many were borrowing rice from smugglers

but the interest would cripple them.

Kao Chheng Huort, said that if a family borrowed 300

kg of rice it had to pay back more than 700 kg at

harvest.

She said the smugglers were careful who they lent to

and tended to target families that wanted to be part of

food for work programs because they believe there was a

better chance of being paid back.

Chan Yim, 56, in Sla village said she had no choice

but to borrow rice, although she realized she will

probably have nothing left of her harvest once she repaid

it.

"Now I take 10,000 riels of rice and I have to

give them back about 48 kg of unhusked rice and this year

my rice is not good and the rice field is very

small," she said.

Meanwhile for some people the last resort has been to

sell their children.

An Adhoc investigator in Kampong Thom said she was

aware of at least ten cases of children being sold in the

market, with a larger number having been sold into

prostitution.

She said every morning villagers in the market tried

to sell children. She said it was the last resort of the

most desperate - mainly widowers who could no longer look

after their children. They asked between 20,000 to 30,000

riel each for them.

Neither she nor the police could prevent the practice

because they could not offer any substitute form of aid.

"If we want to prevent it we have to help

them," she said.

She said that some people bought the children out of

pity to take to orphanages.

However the biggest concern were those, of unknown

number, who ended up in the brothels.

"The brothel owner will buy the girl to use as a

prostitute because the price is very cheap."

Another Adhoc worker said that there appeared to have

been a big increase in trafficking of women and children

since the food shortage began.

In early October two young girls were rescued from a

brothel and one of the three owners arrested, she said.

The two victims were orphans and had been living with

their poor grandparents in Kampong Thom.

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