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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hunger looms in flood's wake

Hunger looms in flood's wake

hunger.jpg
hunger.jpg

Though the flood waters have receded, the fate of millions of Cambodians remains

uncertain as they wait anxiously for a harvest that is still months away.

Dem Varth, a farmer in Kandal Province's Sophy village, hopes to harvest enough rice for his family

Dem Varth, 66, a farmer in Kandal Province's Sophy village, squats on a paddy wall,

staring at his new crop as if willing the rice to grow.

"I had nothing to eat this morning," he said, placing a hand on his stomach,

"but I will eat something this afternoon."

Varth said this year's flooding destroyed almost all his village's rice. "We

have a big problem. It has been difficult for us to survive.

"We will be able to harvest in about three months. We'll just have to wait and

see whether our crop is big or small," he said

Varth is not optimistic about his chances of having a good crop after planting so

late in the year. Not only does his crop have to survive the intense dry season sun,

but pests are now taking a heavy toll. "The mice are eating my crop."

With ten children to feed, Varth said that even in a good year he is able to harvest

just enough rice to feed his family.

Some villagers received a 25kg rice donation - but more is needed. "Because

we are in the same village we share our food with each other when we face difficult

times, and now we are really short of food."

Varth's is just one of some 750,000 families adversely affected by this years devastating

floods.

Though damage assements are still underway, the Government estimates that the flooding

cost more than $100m in losses to crops and infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank has proposed $60m in sectoral loans and grants to rehabilitate

flood-affected areas, and the World Bank is considering extending $10m in credits

for infrastructure repair.

Dr Mom Bun Heng, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Health, describes the health

situation in the flood-affected countryside as "under control." He said

there have been no major outbreaks of disease as a result of the floods and the Ministry

is busy repairing some 170 rural health centers.

But international health agencies warn that the coming year could see higher rates

of malaria and perhaps a major dengue fever epedemic.

Praveen Agrawal, World Food Program (WFP) Deputy Country Director, said a food supply

and crop assessment survey completed on December 19 shows that a "significant"

number farmers may face food shortages. But it was, he said, still too early for

the WFP to provide a more precise estimate of those who will need food aid.

Agrawal said it will be difficult to put a figure on the tonnage of rice lost in

the floods until the next harvest. Estimates of this year's rice harvest short-fall

vary from 44,000 to 200,000 tons.

World Vision reports extensive crop and infrastructure damage in Kampong Thom, Kandal,

Takeo, and Kampong Chhnang. Some districts in these provinces remain flooded. Where

waters have receded, farmers have been given a fast-growing variety of rice, but

the earliest harvests are not expected until the end of February.

World Vision plans to implement soon some food-for-work programs where the food security

situation is most critical.

The International Red Cross said present rehabilitation efforts will cover only about

25 per cent of some 21,000 water points and wells contaminated by the floods and

more money is needed to address this problem.

And problems are all Phon Smon, 45, has known lately.

"We spent more than two million riels to plant our vegetables, but they were

completely destroyed by the flood. We had to start all over again," said Smon,

stabbing at weeds in her vegetable field with a chap chik.

She believes it will take more than a year for the families of Kandal Province's

Koh Phos village to recover from their financial loss. But of more immediate concern

is keeping her family fed.

"Our family is now short of food. We work hard in our field to grow our vegetables

because if we don't, we will have no food.

"We received help from an organization that gave us 25kg of rice and 20,000

Riel. It relieved our hunger for only a few days, but it was better than nothing,"

said Smon.

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