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People collect water from a dirty pool in Banteay Meanchey province last month as drought conditions in the Kingdom caused widespread water shortages.
People collect water from a dirty pool in Banteay Meanchey province last month as drought conditions in the Kingdom caused widespread water shortages. Hong Menea

‘Less aid available’ for disasters: WFP

The head of the World Food Programme in Cambodia has said that while the government's drought response was "adequate," more could have been done in preparation and warned that the Kingdom must anticipate receiving less help in the future.

With the dwindling of globally available funds, responsibility for disaster management will increasingly fall to Cambodia and its regional partners, World Food Programme country director Gian Pietro Bordignon said yesterday, though an analyst and a government relief official expressed scepticism that ASEAN would rise to the challenge any time soon.

While the month-long national campaign ended on Wednesday last week, government water distribution continues to select areas, with support by the Cambodian Red Cross which raised some $13 million, according to Bordignon who also commended the Ministry of Education's collaboration with the WFP in ensuring the most affected schools had access to drinking water.

Although the government says there have been no casualties from the drought, Bordignon said the impacts of migration and sales of assets like livestock would be felt by Cambodians long after the drought ends.

“What has been done is sufficient? No,” he said. “What has been done is all that is possible? No.”

“[Governments] are realising now what could be done,” he said, mentioning as an example investments in water management infrastructure, a recommendation made by the World Bank last month.

“Climate change is here to stay . . . It’s a matter of now investing more money,” he said, adding that Cambodia must prepare for future disasters now knowing that other countries were higher on the agenda.

“The international community is discerning in Istanbul what is needed,” he said.

Last week the World Humanitarian Summit met in Turkey to address the global lack of relief funds and to assess aid priorities.

“Money in the world is less available,” Bordignon said.

“In Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia these are life-saving operations and of course that detracts [from funding available to Cambodia] . . . We need to accept this challenge.”

It’s not just lack of rain that Cambodia will have to worry about. While the drought is expected to linger until July as El Niño fades, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology put out a “La Niña watch” last week. A conversely strong La Niña would spell flood risk for the region.

NCDM spokesman Keo Vy, however, offered assurances that the Kingdom was ready. “Most of the provinces have disaster flood management plans,” he said. “We are worried, but we are not very worried. We know where and what will be affected.”

For Bordignon, future disasters can also be addressed regionally. “I’m talking about ASEAN . . . They are setting up a strong drought response,” he said.

A joint statement last week at the close of the ASEAN defence ministers meeting in Laos indicated that “terms” had been adopted to implement military cooperation for disaster relief.

A separate joint statement made by ASEAN after an informal meeting on disaster management at the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit made a commitment to “Invest in joint preparedness through One ASEAN One Response”.

According to regional security analyst Carlyle Thayer, however, agreements such as that in Vientiane “represents incremental progress not a break through”.

Vy expects there will be a proposal to double annual national contributions to the One Response program from $30,000 to $60,000 – however he was doubtful as to how much the Kingdom would stand to gain given that disasters aren’t “large” or “serious” enough in Cambodia. “I think there is not going to be such teamwork to help.”

This story has been updated to reflect additional comments from World Food Programme country director Gian Pietro Bordignon that more accurately represent the WFP's assessment of the situation.


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