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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cash grants spur recovery after flood disaster

Cash grants spur recovery after flood disaster

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Pram Kimsot says it is easy to see which of the 200 families in his village are suffering the worst following flooding last year: “There’s no rice straw piled up in front of our houses,” he says. “It shows you didn’t have a good harvest, and this year it is one of the worst harvests we’ve ever had.”

Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
A family forced to relocate during last year’s flooding disaster, which affected about 1.6 million people.

Pram’s village, Osala, is on the bank of the Stoeung Sen River in Kampong Thom province, one of the worst hit by last year’s flooding. In Kampong Thom, about half the land used for growing rice was inundated, destroying 35 per cent of the province’s crop and affecting 54,000 people.

Few of the straw piles in Osala are more than about four feet high. Many of the homes have no straw piles at all. So what can farmers do to recover?

In the initial flood response, Oxfam worked with a local organisation to help evacuate families in Osala to higher ground and distribute food. The local partner, APA, also helped to make sure flood survivors had soap and clean water, essentials for avoiding water-borne diseases.

Next, Oxfam and eight partner organisations distributed cash grants of US$75 per family to 1,678 of the poorest families in 13 communes, including Osala. Distributing cash in cases like this helps families buy what they need most – and each has different needs. Giving families cash along with seeds may help a farmer replant – and he can buy - food instead of eating the seeds to survive.

In many cases, giving disaster survivors cash is better than distributing food, clothing, medicine, building materials, and other aid.  If there are functioning markets for these goods, supplying them for free will reduce demand, drive down prices for local goods, and put local merchants out of business.

Pat Kay used the cash grant she received to buy rice and peanut seeds, which she planted in two fields. She needed to grow enough food to feed her four children living with her at home in Osala, and she also wanted to send rice to her two daughters working in garment factories near Phnom Penh, which will help lower their living costs and increase the portion of their wages they can send home.

Chit Sinang said the floods washed away all her assets when she needed to take her five-year-old daughter to a distant city for crucial medical care. For her, this was the highest priority. “I was so happy, almost crying, because I got the money when I really needed it,” she said. Sending her daughter to the hospital took up half the cash grant, the rest she used to buy food for her family of four and invest in growing rice in the dry season.

Most of the people we spoke with said they used the money to buy seeds and food. Pat Kay was one. The youngest four of her eight children are living at home with her, and she is struggling to find food.

She said she divided her grant from Oxfam and APA between rice and peanut seeds, and a 50-kilogram bag of rice to eat. She replanted two small fields, and bought some fuel for a borrowed pump to irrigate them.

The rice she planted behind her house after the floodwaters receded is now about as high as her ankles. “If there are no insects, I can get about half a tonne,” she said. “It’s still not enough for all the members of my family.”

Rith Bunroeun works for an organisation called Action for Development that helped Oxfam disburse the cash.

“We educated people about how to use it, because we didn’t want people to abuse it,” he said. “We also went back to monitor the project, and found that [the cash] was used to help people address their needs.

“Is it enough? Not really, but it helps them get through a tough time.”

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