AS another rain-laden typhoon bore down on the inundated Mekong River system this
week, the Cambodian Government estimated flood damage at $79 million.
SOAKED AGAIN: Thirty hours of nonstop rain between October 10 and 12 brought Phnom-Penhois to their knees in flood waters in low-lying parts of the city, with renewed fears that the capital would be inundated. This cyclo driver negotiates his way along the road between the National Assembly and the Royal Palace.
Relief organizations worked to bring in international aid and to deliver food and
supplies to thousands of families living on patches of high ground surrounded by
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast on National Radio on October 10
that the number of people affected by the flooding was 2.7 million, that 252 Cambodians
had died, and 1.3 million were in need of food, shelter and medicine.
Flooding has damaged 102 irrigation projects, 988 schools and 121 medical clinics,
Hun Sen said. He said more than 544,000 hectares of rice paddy were destroyed and
700 km of national roads and 1,500 km of rural roads were damaged.
A few loan agencies and foreign donors, after touring the countryside by helicopter
to see inundated rice paddies, broken roads, and schools awash in mud, said they
were preparing to release new funds and soft loans for emergency flood repair.
"Things are coming in, but slowly," said Monika Midel, country director
of the World Food Program, one of the agencies participating in the United Nations
international appeal for $10 million in emergency assistance.
The Asian Development Bank estimated Cambodia needs emergency financing of $30 million
to $35 million to repair infrastructure. A bank group toured the country over the
weekend. The government of Germany announced a $7 million emergency flood relief
package with $1 million in emergency food and relief assistance and $6 million to
The UN appeal for $10 million had brought in pledges of $1.6 million, including $88,000
from Luxembourg, by October 11.
The flood has claimed dozens of lives in Vietnam and Laos, but its most serious effects
have been in Cambodia, which has less ability than Vietnam to channel the excess
water out of the way, hydrology experts told the Post. Part of the reason is its
geography on the lower end of the Mekong, and another reason is Cambodia's poor irrigation
grid, which was redesigned during the Pol Pot years and doesn't work well.
"The damage is quite severe," said Urooj Malik, resident representative
of the Asian Development Bank.
Malik said the ADB team's preliminary estimate is that Cambodia needs $30 million
to $35 million in emergency financing, largely to repair roads, including Route 1,
the primary road to Ho Chi Minh City, which has been hard hit, as well as dikes,
school and medical facilities.
Malik said Cambodia's economic growth will probably suffer this year and next year
because of damage caused to the rice crop and other agriculture as well as to the
infrastructure. He said the ADB revised its estimate for the year's growth downward
by about one percentage point.
"Inasmuch as you were only looking at five percent GDP growth for the year,
a one per cent drop is indeed going to have an effect on the economy," Malik
Cambodia needs 7 to 8 percent growth to make a dent in poverty, so a level of four
percent is "not at all desirable", said Malik.
The World Food Program was delivering bags of rice and canned fish to thousands of
stranded villagers facing a bleak few months with no prospect of a January rice harvest.
Other relief agencies, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, were
delivering emergency medical kits, plastic sheeting and water purification canisters.
The Government was delivering food and emergency packages and villagers in different
provinces said they had received 25 kilogram bags of rice from Hun Sen.
In the Kiri Vong district, six kilometers from Vietnam, Long Ly, deputy governor,
said he is very worried about the future.
"There is a saying that you lose your harvest one year and you are three years
poor," said Ly.
"Please find a way to help us so Cambodian people don't have to go through three
years of poor."
He said some farmers are hoping to plant a late-season, fast-growing rice crop as
soon as the water recedes but they need rice seed, empty bags they can fill with
sand or dirt to shore up dikes and canals, and petroleum to run their pumps so they
can reduce the water level in the paddies and prepare the fields for planting. They
also need rice to eat.
It may not look like it, but this is a "toll gate" in flooded Takeo province. These guys were levying a 2000-riel charge on any boat that came close. They seemed serious, and carried guns to make their position clear.
Ly said the eastern part of his province was totally flooded as was the road to Vietnam.
He said school should have started but flood victims had sought refuge in the district
schools and there were no classrooms for the students.
Khut Sorn, a 45-year-old mother of four children, said her four hectares of rice
fields were destroyed by flooding during the Pchum Ben holiday when the floods peaked
on September 29. She moved the family into a shack on the side of road where the
land is a bit higher and dryer.
She said the villagers are accustomed to flooding, but this is the worst they have
had in at least 25 years.
"Every year there is water, but this year it is waist level," she said.
She said she is in debt one million riels for planting. She is thinking about selling
the family cow to buy rice to eat. Many of her neighbors also said they either sell
their cows to get rice or go to Phnom Penh to look for enough work to survive till
the next harvest. "It is going to be difficult," said Sorn.
In the village of Peam Ro, in the province of Prey Veng, villagers said they left
their flooded homes a few weeks earlier, first moving their livestock to safety in
a schoolyard, then their families.
The water had receded by October 7 when the World Food Program brought reporters
to the area and the villagers stood ankle-deep in mud with their cows and chickens.
At the Mekong River Commission hydrologists are studying the causes of the flooding
in the four participating MRC countries of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
They are collecting data to learn from what they say has been an odd year with too
many intense typhoons sweeping west from northern Vietnam and not enough monsoon
blowing up from the southwest in Cambodia.
The result has been a checkerboard of serious drought in one province and flooding
in another. Takeo has both, said Sok Saing Im, a senior hydrologist.
"People can live with flooding but not of this magnitude," said Saing.
"With the frequency of these severe floods, now every five years, there is too
He said the current flood is the worst in 80 years with the possible exception of
a flood in 1978 for which there is no accurate data because the Khmer Rouge didn't
keep flood records.
He said the chief cause of the Cambodia flooding is the intense typhoon season. But
deforestation from logging in eastern Thailand, Laos and parts of Cambodia and Vietnam
is also to blame, both because the denuded land doesn't drain the water, and because
it pushes too much silt into the rivers, reducing their capacity to hold the floodwaters,
Saing said a typhoon moving over Vietnam as the Post went to press could again threaten
to flood Phnom Penh. He said if the flooding resumes anew in the Mekong, it could
push waters back up the Tonle Sap again.
Malik at the ADB said the damage estimate could grow after the ADB returns in November
to make a more detailed assessment. He said the ADB could pick up all or some of
the emergency financing in the form of soft loans over a period of years. The ADB
already has a loan portfolio of about $400 million in Cambodia and is participating
in the preparation of a strategy for poverty reduction for the country.
ADB President Tadao Chino was scheduled to make his first visit to Cambodia this
week, arriving on October 12 after visiting Vietnam.