SENIOR Ministry of Rural Development staff have been
meeting this week to try to improve rice aid distribution
methods and targeting in an effort to alleviate serious
pockets of death and disease due to malnutrition in the
Some rural Cambodians are being driven to taking
desperate measures to survive including selling their
children, eating poisonous plants, becoming indebted with
usurious interest rates and, in one reported case, the
murder of an entire family by the mother.
Authorities have said that the pre-rice harvest food
shortages are no worse than any other year but a
combination of circumstances have led to intense
suffering and deaths in pockets of Cambodia.
The Cambodian Red Cross said that it no longer had
rice to distribute even for emergency aid.
The Ministry of Rural Development, which works with
the World Food Program administering its food for work
program, admitted it had failed to reach some people who
were in desperate need.
Under-Secretary of State Ngy Chanpal said that they
pre-select areas immediately after the previous rice
harvest where they think there will be shortages during
the next harvest, and gear up aid programs and community
work schemes there.
He said in some cases they did not get it right and
when a privation occurs in an area not targeted it can
take more than two months to rectify. He said it was this
lead time they were trying to reduce as well as creating
a more efficient emergency relief program.
But he added that overall the ministry was successful
in aiding rural communities. He said it had assisted more
than one million people.
"The situation is serious but not really serious.
It is a problem of pockets," he said.
While the ministry still had rice in storage it was
committed to work for food programs. However Chanpal said
this week's donation of 16-tons of rice by Japan, worth
$8.5m, should provide relief till the next rice harvest.
However he warned that until the government was formed
there would continue to be serious problems in obtaining
He was particularly critical of opposition politicians
who had urged organizations like the Asia Development
Bank to cease aid.
"What is their idea for poverty eradication? Kill
all the poor?" he said.
Meanwhile life for the people who have run out of rice
is looking grim, particularly with the rice harvest
having being severely delayed by a lack of rain.
In Kampong Thom, one of the worst affected areas, WFP
staff said at least 13 people have died due to disease
worsened by malnutrition.
Human rights group Adhoc is also investigating a case
there of a woman who poisoned her two children and
husband because she did not want to watch them starve any
Kao Chheng Huor, WFP program assistant in Kampong Thom
and Preah Vihear said that in Veal Veng village of Prasat
Sambo district most of the people are malnourished,
especially the young.
She said WFP had been providing food to Stung, Prasat
Sambo, Kampong Svay, Santok, Prasat Balang and Sandan
districts. She said the worst affected areas were Stung
and Prasat Balang.
Only about one in five villagers had some food left.
She said some had been surviving by foraging for yam and
However that has proved fatal for some. A military
officer in the Poupok commune said one family died from
poisoning after not having properly cleaned cassava.
Kampong Thom authorities say that in Stung more than
30,000 villagers had run out of rice.
Chap Mil, a deputy chief of Stung district, said that
Trea commune was one of the poorest villages because last
year's rice crop was not good.
One of those villagers, Plouk Chup, 83 - who was
waiting with his grandchildren for their father to go and
find some yams some 10 kms from their home - said at meal
times the old people waited until the children had eaten,
then they got what was left.
Roeun Sa Am, 40, from Stung district cried as she
described trying to survive. She and others picked forest
fruit and tried selling them at the market to buy rice.
"We have never had difficulties like this
year," she said. "We cry when our children are
eating [cassava tubers and yams] and think it will be
worse next year because this year there has been drought
and the cows and buffaloes have died."
An Adhoc investigator, who asked not to be named, said
that many people had started to eat their rice seed which
would cause problems next year.
She added that many were borrowing rice from smugglers
but the interest would cripple them.
Kao Chheng Huort, said that if a family borrowed 300
kg of rice it had to pay back more than 700 kg at
She said the smugglers were careful who they lent to
and tended to target families that wanted to be part of
food for work programs because they believe there was a
better chance of being paid back.
Chan Yim, 56, in Sla village said she had no choice
but to borrow rice, although she realized she will
probably have nothing left of her harvest once she repaid
"Now I take 10,000 riels of rice and I have to
give them back about 48 kg of unhusked rice and this year
my rice is not good and the rice field is very
small," she said.
Meanwhile for some people the last resort has been to
sell their children.
An Adhoc investigator in Kampong Thom said she was
aware of at least ten cases of children being sold in the
market, with a larger number having been sold into
She said every morning villagers in the market tried
to sell children. She said it was the last resort of the
most desperate - mainly widowers who could no longer look
after their children. They asked between 20,000 to 30,000
riel each for them.
Neither she nor the police could prevent the practice
because they could not offer any substitute form of aid.
"If we want to prevent it we have to help
them," she said.
She said that some people bought the children out of
pity to take to orphanages.
However the biggest concern were those, of unknown
number, who ended up in the brothels.
"The brothel owner will buy the girl to use as a
prostitute because the price is very cheap."
Another Adhoc worker said that there appeared to have
been a big increase in trafficking of women and children
since the food shortage began.
In early October two young girls were rescued from a
brothel and one of the three owners arrested, she said.
The two victims were orphans and had been living with
their poor grandparents in Kampong Thom.