Aid agencies say remote settlements are difficult to reach; death toll rises.
A HUMANITARIAN crisis loomed across the Kingdom on Sunday as aid agencies struggled to reach people in remote parts of the country caught in the path of Typhoon Ketsana when it struck Cambodia with devastating force last week.
At least 10,000 people are still in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to Oxfam, although there are fears the true figure could be much higher. More than eight provinces were severely affected by the storm, creating a “staggering demand” for aid, the group said.
Relief workers stationed across the country reported serious difficulties transporting much-needed supplies to the worst-hit provinces, as still-rising floodwaters left vast stretches of the country’s rugged terrain almost completely cut off.
While survivors of the flash floods and 185mph winds began the daunting task of rebuilding their shattered lives, experts warned on Sunday that the damage wrought on the Kingdom’s food supplies could trigger serious long-term shortages.
“The concern in Cambodia is huge,” said Francis Perez, country director for Oxfam International in Cambodia. “We’re talking about thousands of people in need of emergency assistance just in Kampong Thom province alone. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination we could assume that more than half of the affected people have been reached by emergency relief.”
The typhoon destroyed large swathes of Cambodia’s rice crops and left a trail of dead livestock in its wake, just weeks before the November harvest was due to start. Oxfam’s initial estimates of the damage have since doubled: As many as 50,000 hectares of rice paddies may have been destroyed, it said in a statement Saturday.
“In areas where we have been conducting assessments, damages to crops are as much as 90 percent,” said Perez. “That will have a longer-term impact on people’s lives. In most of the fields where there have been floods, particularly in Kampong Thom province, crops have been submerged for more than two weeks. The farmers say that will ensure the crops will not survive.”
As the country struggled to calculate the long-term cost of the storm, the immediate human cost continued to climb. The official death toll from the National Committee for Disaster Management rose to 15 over the weekend: nine people in Kampong Thom province, three in Ratanakkiri and three in Battambang. Additional reports of fatalities, including a report of 17-year-old boy believed to have drowned while in Siem Reap’s swollen river, had not been confirmed.
Efforts to get aid to the people most in need have been “severely hampered” by widespread flooding, said
THE WATER LEVELS ARE GETTING HIGHER AND HIGHER. WE ARE MOVING PEOPLE TO SAFETY NOW.
Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management for the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC). In Preah Vihear, where it normally takes the CRC 45 minutes to distribute basic food aid to 1,000 families, dangerously high water levels in the wake of the storm meant the process took an arduous four days to complete.
At the same time, parts of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces have proved completely impassable, leading CRC to appeal to its Vietnamese counterparts for help in what Uy Sam Ath described as the largest domestic rescue effort he has seen since catastrophic flooding in 2000 destroyed more than 300,000 homes.
Provincial officials reported continued flooding Sunday night, and several attempted to evacuate people to higher ground.
Chhun Chhorn, Kompong Thom provincial governor, said: “The water levels are getting higher and higher. We are moving people to safety now.”
People living along the Stung Sen River in Sandan, Prasat Balang and Prasat Sambor districts have been warned to make emergency plans, he said.
In Stung Treng province, Governor Loy Sophat said floodwaters had risen higher than expected, and authorities put the entire province on alert. “The flood has destroyed more than 3,000 hectares of rice paddies, affecting every district in the province,” he said.
In Ratanakkiri, where three people were confirmed killed, emergency food aid was being delivered by helicopter, said Governor Pao Ham Phan.
Two of the victims were crushed by falling trees; the third drowned when the boat in which he was fishing capsized. Despite the deaths, the governor said most people in the province had been well-prepared. “Because we knew about the storm first, we could save our people on time,” he said.
Kham Phoeun, governor of Kratie province, said most people had been evacuated from the rising floodwaters, but that about 180 hectares of rice had been destroyed.
Near Preah Vihear, military personnel had to clear the road after a landslide blocked it in two places following heavy rain Friday night. “Our soldiers are used to it, so they are not affected by it,” Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, said Sunday.
Polling stations in several provinces were also closed due to flooding, preventing voters from checking their details on the electoral register, according to officials. Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, said: “People only have until October 20 to check their names on voter lists, but now our country is facing a natural disaster. It has really interrupted our work.” People in the affected provinces of Kampong Thom, Pursat, Ratanakkiri and Preah Vihear would be given an extended deadline, he said.
As the waters begin to recede, aid agencies are bracing themselves for the next phase: recovery. The CRC will provide water-purification systems, health education and seeds in what it insists will be a modest cleanup operation compared with neighbouring countries where Ketsana first struck, leaving hundreds dead.
“We cannot compare the impact [in Cambodia] to Indonesia, the Philippines or Vietnam,” Uy Sam Ath said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR AND THET SAMBATH