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Farmers afflicted by floods call for relief from debts

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Floodwaters in Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district in late September. NCDM

Farmers afflicted by floods call for relief from debts

People affected by flooding in Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district have asked authorities to coordinate with loan institutions because they have lost crops.

Chhay Chaeng, a 43-year-old trader, said that floodwaters had receded, but roads had been affected, and it was hard to transport goods. He thought this year’s flooding – which lasted two months – was especially bad due to people clearing land to plant crops and infill which had been used to level ground so people could build houses.

“During the flood period, my family could not earn anything. We just sat in our home waiting for the waters to recede. The people in the district were able to save some of their chickens, ducks, pigs and cows, but were lost to the floods,” he said.

He added that ordinarily his family earned between 100,000 riel and 150,000 riel a day from selling bottled water and fertiliser, but because the roads were impassable, no goods could be transported. This meant they had no income, but still had to spend their savings on rice and food for the family. In addition, he said that most of their goods were bought with loans, so while they could not sell them, they were still required to pay the bank.

“We request that the government arrange a meeting with the banks and microfinance institutions to offer some payment relief at times when people are struggling. We cannot do business, there is damage to our property and we simply do not have the money to pay the bank,” he said.

Da Kunthea, a 32-year-old farmer, said this year’s floods had damaged 0.7ha of her rice fields, destroyed more than 80 percent of her cassava and killed much of her livestock.

“I borrowed 20 million riel from Prasac Microfinance Institution Plc to buy buffalo and cultivate cassava, but since the floods, I have not been able to make an income and repay them,” she said.

“I have to meet monthly payments of more than 500,000 riel to cover the principle and the interest. This means I need to borrow from somewhere else to repay them. Of course, once the waters have receded and I am ready to begin raising animals and growing crops again, I will need to spend more money to get started,” she said.

Hean Vanhorn, director of the agricultural department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that if crops are damaged by a natural disaster – like a flood – the authorities will arrange to provide seeds to affected farmers.

“We have no policy in place regarding financial assistance, but we have agreed to provide seeds if the land is suitable for rice,” he added.

According to a report from the National Committee for Disaster Management, flooding affected 23 provinces, 105 districts and 435 communes. The worst affected provinces were Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Battambang. More than 190,000ha of rice fields were damaged. Just over half a million people were affected by the flooding.

Soth Kim Kolmony, spokesman for the disaster management committee, said that the authorities were working hard nationwide to bring relief to those affected as efficiently and as rapidly as possible.

His remarks were in response to comments by some civil society officials, who claimed that Cambodia lacked the capacity for an adequate response to natural disasters, due to a lack of resources.

People’s Center for Development and Peace president Yong Kim Eng said on October 13 that disaster management is very important. Although in most places the authorities sought to intervene as quickly as possible, there were some obstacles, such as the lack of means to carry out activities that make their interventions timely.

“We see a lack of technology, materials and an adequate communication system. Sometimes disaster management is not just about providing food, it is about rescuing people. There needs to be a centralised plan and a clear direction, so that there is a universal response,” he said.

Not only that, he said authorities must have enough qualified manpower to carry out their plans. In order to achieve this, he suggested that the authorities conduct preliminary training with practical instruction from disaster relief specialists.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said: “In terms of disaster management and response, a series of measures have been put in place because floods have a significant impact on the health, property and crops of the people.”

“I believe that the authorities are trying their best to evacuate people to safe places. Unfortunately, we see some shortcomings, such as a lack of boats and other means of affecting rescues,” he said.

He added that the authorities appeared not to plan in advance, and were more likely to react to a situation than prepare for it.

But Kolmony responded: “Local authorities have taken control of the flooding situation in their respective localities. We have not needed to deploy national forces to the affected areas.”

Cambodia has enough resources and expertise to help the people who were impacted, and would continue to work together to help one another in times of trouble, he added.


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