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SMS alerts key in next disaster

A boy floats in floodwater in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district last year. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

Word of mouth and SMS communication systems are essential to an effective emergency warning system in the event of future floods, a consortium of seven development partners say in a post-flood survey released yesterday.

Improving early warning and emergency communications systems were some of the key recommendations.

The consortium, which includes the Asian Development Bank, the Danish Red Cross and Save the Children, as well as two UN agencies, found that while 90 per cent of the wealthiest households received all their flood-related information from television, 79 per cent of the nation’s poorest relied largely on word-of-mouth.

Few households received flood-related information from newspaper/print materials or mobile phones, the consortium’s report shows.

However, the consortium noted that with mobile-phone penetration of 73 per cent in the affected areas, an SMS alert system working in tandem with word of mouth would be ideal improvements to the communication system.

The Post reported that confusion between the government’s National Disaster Management Committee, the Red Cross and various development partners and NGOs during the early days of last year’s disaster had led to some affected families receiving no aid or warnings and others receiving double.

The 2011 floods, the worst in more than a decade, swamped 18 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces and created an unexpected humanitarian disaster that has had a lingering effect on the poorest households, which were disproportionately hit.

Forty per cent of flood-affected households have taken out loans to get back on their feet after having infrastructure, livestock and rice paddies affected by the deluge, according to the survey.

Save the Children advocacy manager Sen Jeunsafy said it was unpredictable how long it could take for some families to fully recover.

“What we are focusing on now is being prepared if a flood happens again this year. That’s what we’re most worried about: that the people hit the hardest have not had a chance to recover yet.

“Roads won’t take that long to build, but if you are talking about money debts to micro-finance institutions, it is going to take longer.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at



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