I wish to comment on the opening section of Matthew Grainger's article of 12-25
January, where he refers to a Food-for-Work project in Battambang. I also note the
letter from Mr Varghese in the following issue.
The World Food Programme certainly did provide food to villagers who rehabilitated
the canal your correspondent mentions. The project was proposed by them to WFP, which
in turn was given to the Hydrology Department for approval. They withheld their agreement
for technical reasons, but proposed an alternative route which was accepted by the
chief of the commune. This decision, involving field visits, took a matter of days
Without exception all irrigation projects are discussed with and approved by this
department before any final commitment to the villagers is made.
The Cambodian Red Cross didn't "get involved" but were responsible from
the outset to organize the laborers and, as always, undertook the food distribution.
WFP's Food-for-Work projects do not have a cash component for giving to local government
personnel and the staff from Battambang's Hydrology Department have worked closely
with WFP since early 1995 without receiving a single cent or any other incentive
from WFP. This particular project, however, did include cash costs of $229 (paid
by WFP) for culvert pipes, cement, sand and stone.
The rehabilitation of this canal is part of the provincial authorities' plan to provide
water to many more hectares of land to provide better yield for wet season rice and
additional opportunities for dry season varieties, and other crops. There is still
a lot of work to be done to improve the whole system of canals, and certainly some
major structures still need to be rehabilitated to make the system more efficient.
In this particular case, an existing water gate can be adequately controlled by the
villagers by using wood in the gate, and does not need a new concrete structure as
suggested. The small canal feeds off the Primary Canal No. 1 and is used to divert
or store water to improve the yield of the rice crops planted in its vicinity. We
understand there may have been some confusion in the minds of the villagers whereby
they thought they would be able to cultivate a second (dry-season) crop of rice.
This was never the intention and is not feasible.
There are many other examples in and around Battambang and elsewhere in the country
of excellent canal rehabilitation works which have made a great difference to the
lives and livelihoods of many thousands of villagers and displaced families.
It is pity that Mr Grainger did not bother to make contact with me or our provincial
staff to get our comments before writing his article.
- Martin Fisher, WFP Regional Officer, North West Provinces.