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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Holiday interrupts flood relief

Holiday interrupts flood relief

Holiday interrupts flood relief

holi.jpg
holi.jpg

MORE than two million Cambodians have been affected by the most severe flooding

in the country for 30 years, 173 people have been killed and damage to crops and

infrastructure is estimated at $50 million - but many relief efforts have

stopped for the holidays.

A scene that evokes the spirit of Pchum Ben amid Cambodia's worst floods for decades.

Dr Nguon Sakhon, Second Deputy Secretary

General of Cambodian Red Cross (CRC), said emergency relief assistance has

reached nearly 200,000 victims, but the CRC will suspend relief efforts during

the Pchum Ben holiday.

Sakhon said although the CRC has money to buy rice

for the relief program, they are reluctant to make large purchases all at once

for fear they will drive the price up.

Outbreaks of dysentry and cholera,

as well as malaria, dengue fever, and respiratory diseases can be expected, said

Sakhon

For villagers running out of food, the need for a holiday and

concerns about price hikes for rice are unlikely to be met with much

sympathy.

Other relief organizations were similarly shut down through

Pchum Ben. The Post visited offices of a number of foreign and local aid

organizations, but staff on duty at most of them said that the offices would be

closed and the staff on holiday till Monday. The International Federation of Red

Cross and Red Crescent societies was the exception: a guard said a foreigner

would be working during the holidays but all the Cambodian staff were

away.

United Nations organizations - the World Food Program and the Food

and Agricultural Organization - were both closed. Christian NGO World Vision ,

which had been involved in earlier relief efforts had closed its office by Press

time.

Staff at the gate said eveyone was away for the holidays and would

not be back till Monday.

This year's flooding was brought about by

monsoons, which brought twice the average seasonal rainfall to the

region.

Though flood waters are receding slightly, there are at least six

weeks of the rainy season remaining and indications that rain in China could

push up the level of Mekong again.

Taing Nath, the official in charge of

emergency coordination, sanitation and rehabilitation at the National Committee

on Disaster Management (NCDM), said most of the people who had died so far were

victims of drowning or snake bites.

Nath thold the Post that damage to

crops and infrastructure could reach $50 million, but the real extent of the

destruction cannot be assessed till waters recede.

He said 156,500

hectares of rice have been destroyed already and another 291,000 hectares are

threatened if flood waters rise again.

Nath said because of shortages of

money and supplies, only those flood victims in the most serious conditions are

able to receive emergency aid.

The number of villagers suffering from

flood-related disease is still unknown, said Nath, but reports say malaria and

gastro-intestinal diseases are on a dramatic rise.

Even close to Phnom

Penh, the center of the relief efforts, people were reporting hardship.

Villagers in Kandal Province's Somlong commune said they were grateful for rice

donated by World Vision (WV) which had been brought in by

boats.

Villagers said their food supply was getting dangerously low and

they expect this next year to be a struggle.

Muy Mon, a 50-year-old

farmer from the commune, told the Post that this year's flooding is the worst he

has experienced.

"The flooding is not only difficult for me, but was also

for my buffaloes and cows. Both the people and our animals don't have food and

medicine. When the flood drops down we are very worried that we won't have rice

seeds and the animals will die of disease," said Mon.

Dr Ravi Jayakaram,

Senior Operations Manager for WV, said they have so far distributed rice to some

10,000 of the most badly affected villagers in the provinces where they operate.

WV is just one of many agencies participating in the relief effort. The

agencies are working in close cooperation with the CRC and the NCDM so work is

not duplicatred and villages in need are not overlooked.

Jayakaram said

a 15kg to 25kg bag of rice should be enough to see most of the affected families

through till mid October when they plan a second rice delivery.

Though

water levels are going down, Jayakaram said satellite photos show rain in

southern China which could result in more flooding in Cambodia.

Jayakaram

said WV is preparing to make quick-growing varieties of rice available to

farmers when the water levels recede. The hope is that moisture levels will

remain high enough in the soil to allow these crops to mature, and a harvest to

be brought in, during the early months of the dry season.

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