ONE year ago today, Typhoon Ketsana swept into central Cambodia after leaving a trail of devastation across the Philippines and Vietnam.
Though Cambodia fared better than its neighbours, the storm still killed more than 40, injured more than 60, dealt millions of dollars’ worth of damage and destroyed homes, roads, schools and rice paddies.
Reflecting on its impact yesterday, government and NGO officials said that while Ketsana had posed considerable challenges, they were able to recover and effectively minimise the damage. Nevertheless, they said, concerns remained about Cambodia’s vulnerability to large-scale disasters and ability to promote food security in the long term.
“To be very honest and candid about it, we were caught by surprise,” said Francis Perez, country director in Cambodia for the international relief agency Oxfam.
He added that it was extremely rare for a storm to hit inland Cambodia from the Pacific Ocean. “But nevertheless I think we were able to recover from our unprepared state and deliver a considerable amount of humanitarian assistance to people,” Perez said.
Ros Sovann, deputy secretary general at the National Committee for Disaster Management, which is overseeing recovery efforts, said yesterday that, according to government estimates, Ketsana did US$131 million worth of damage.
The recovery, he said, would cost US$191 million.
In the short term, efforts from both the government and NGOs had been “sufficient”, he said.
“Roads have been recovered, houses have been restored, schools have been repaired and will open again for the coming session.”
Some of that reconstruction is still ongoing. In Kampong Thom, the province that was hardest hit by the storm, about 70 homes were still currently being constructed for families in three affected districts, said provincial governor Chhun Chhorn.
He said the provincial hall was also overseeing the reconstruction of roads, schools and sanitation systems.
But as the recovery effort continues, the government’s ability to ensure food security in affected areas in the long term remains unclear. Government officials said in January that nearly 60,000 hectares of rice and other crops was lost.
Rosaleen Martin, coordination and communications officer at the World Food Programme, said earlier this month that the WFP had conducted an assessment in the wake of the storm that “found evidence of reduced food stocks, damage to infrastructure and selling of assets which are likely to have had at least a medium-term impact on households”.
Ros Sovann said sparse rains this year could hurt families looking to bounce back from last year’s damage.
“I am concerned about the delay of the rain, and the delay of the cultivation this year that will undermine or hamper them more,” he said.
But Uo Bosporn, the director of the Agriculture Department in Kampong Thom, said food security had not been affected because the provincial government had “220,000 tonnes of rice paddy in stock for supporting farmers”. He said he expected the rice yield to increase more than 50 percent over last year, pending no drought, major flooding or natural disaster.
Nevertheless, Perez said the fact that many of the families touched by Ketsana were dependent on subsistence farming had made them particularly vulnerable, and noted that this would also apply to future disasters.
“We have to move beyond responding…and reduce the risks associated with disasters,” Perez said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA