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Hungry villagers hit by more problems

Hungry villagers hit by more problems

V ILLAGERS struggling under the effects of near-famine in some areas are now also being battered by disease and other woes, according to NGO workers.

"Eating is more important than hygiene," one villager in Kompong Speu province told Pok Sa Em, a worker with the Khmer Buddhist Society Project Research.

Pok Sa Em said her organization and 14 other NGOs in provinces worst affected by drought were trying to help farmers push up from such difficult circumstances.

Villagers from such hard-hit provinces as Prey Veng, Takeo and Svay Rieng had moved to Kompong Speu to earn money cutting wood, she said.

Deaths had been recorded among the migrant workers there who were living rough, with insufficient food and no medicines, she said.

Many such people did not care about accepting advice on how important cleanliness and drinking safe water was, she said. They were more concerned about finding food, or making money for food.

The NGO workers had discussed the drought disaster with governors of ten badly hit provinces.

In addition to the lack of food and associated diseases, such as cholera and diarrhea, there was security problems, sickness among animals and increasing commodity prices, Pok Sa Em said.

Rice donations, meanwhile, have been welcomed but seem insufficient in many areas.

The Japanese government pledged $3 million to buy 9,500 tonnes of rice and Australia pledged $5.4 million for 10,000 tonnes, both donations are to be distributed by the World Food Program and Cambodian Red Cross.

Tep Narrory, the Prey Veng governor said that he has received 3,500 tonnes of donated rice recently but that was far from the 15,000 tonnes villagers in his area needed immediately. Priority had to be given to the elderly, children and the sick, he said.

Seng Seun, 35, a farmer with three children and sick wife, said what part of his rice fields that had escaped the floods had been finished off by the drought.

"I have nothing left. I have survived by rice given to me by my neighbor and the government. I don't know what to do next because I have no skill and money."

Seun said he has about one kilogram of rice left from the government donation he received in the last few weeks.

He said that his family have one meal a day, and added other fruits because he wanted to save his rice a bit longer.

Occasionally, he worked for other neighboring farmers but even they were struggling and could no longer pay in money or rice, he said.

Mr Narrory said that rice donations could only be used as emergency rations. Sooner or later, people would have to fend for themselves, he said.

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