Organisers of this year’s Water Festival celebration have predicted lower-than-usual attendance in the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana, which has hobbled transport, drained incomes and shifted priorities for thousands of Cambodians.
Ngem Chhorn, chief of Svay village in Sandan commune, Kampong Thom province, said this year’s festival would not be as important for him and his people because they are busy replanting farms devastated by last month’s typhoon.
“Half of the people in my village travel to the Water Festival every year, but this year they may just not have the feeling to join in,” adding that in addition to worries about rice fields, his fellow villagers don’t have the money to travel.
The National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) announced its first official assessment of Typhoon Ketsana’s impact on Cambodia.
Some 36 people were killed by Ketsana, which also caused an estimated US$41 million in damages, according to NCDM data.
Kampong Thom took the heaviest toll, with 20 dead and nearly 20,000 hectares of rice fields damaged or destroyed.
Sao Heouy, 35, a villager in Krasang village, Sandan commune, Kampong Thom province, said the promise she made to bring her children to the capital this year would have to be broken.
“I am very upset and pity my children because they were very happy when I told them about the Water Festival, but now they are disappointed,” Sao Heouy said.
The Water Festival, which this year takes place from November 1 to 3, regularly draws more than 2 million visitors to the capital.
Chea Sokhom, permanent vice president and secretary general of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, said he could not predict the exact scale of this year’s shortfall, but he said it could be substantial.
He said last year’s attendence was bolstered by the fact that the festival coincided with the 575th anniversary of the founding of Phnom Penh, as well as the 55th anniversary of Cambodian independence.
Chea Sokhom said that one indicator of a less-than-bumper attendance was a drop in the number of teams entering the dragon boat races. He said registration had fallen from 424 teams last year to 384 this year, as of the October 19 registration deadline, but that officials have decided to extend the deadline to Sunday.
Chea Sokhom added that the final number might be closer to 390.
He suggested that Ketsana could impact more than just the number of rowers this year.
With water levels much higher in rivers across the Kingdom, racers could face greater danger than in years past, which have seen their share of tragedy.
In 2007, five Singaporean racers drowned when their 22-crew member dragon boat capsized during that year’s all-ASEAN festival races.
Police managed to pull the remaining crew members from the river. An unidentified Cambodian racer also drowned the same day.
Chea Sokhom said he had advised racers to be particularly cautious during this year’s competition.
“We do not want to turn a happy time into a tragedy,” he said.