Two months after severe flooding devastated much of the Cambodian countryside, rural communities have only managed to replant a quarter of the destroyed rice fields, officials said yesterday.
Close to 10 percent of Cambodia’s rice harvest was lost and 1.6 million people were affected in September and October when the worst floods in more than a decade hit 18 provinces along the Mekong River and Tonle Sap lake.
Of the approximately 270,000 hectares of paddy that was lost during the floods, only 67,402 hectares, or 24.5 percent, was successfully replanted, said Hean Vanhorn, deputy director of the general department of agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mr. Vanhorn said the government and aid groups had distributed rice seeds among affected communities, but they could only provide seeds to those communities with access to water. “We could not provide seeds to everyone,” he added.
The lack of a rice harvest this year is affecting local food security, Mr. Vanhorn said. “We cannot avoid an impact on individual families, but on the national level, we have enough food,” he said, adding that his ministry expected the national harvest over the 2011 to 2012 period to reach about 8.4 million tons of paddy.
Kim Rattana, director of aid group Caritas, said the agricultural recovery had been limited because the floods receded rapidly in many areas, leaving little water behind to farm crops.
“Like in Prey Veng [province], the water receded very quickly,” he said, adding, “Some water infrastructure was damaged during the floods—that’s why it cannot hold water.”
“Only a small amount of the affected rice farms was replanted,” said Keo Vy, Cabinet chief of the National Committee for Disaster Management. “After the villagers moved back to their homes, they still need food.”
He said about 360 km of paved road and 509 km of unpaved road need to be rehabilitated, while 100 school buildings remain closed, adding that the most recent estimate of the overall flood damage cost stood at a staggering $520 million.
The government and aid groups said they are implementing various projects to provide relief to affected communities through rice seed supplies, health treatment, cash transfers and food-for-work projects to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure.
Mr. Rattana said Caritas provided food items to 8,000 families last month, adding that aid groups were currently carrying out a joint study to determine the exact number of families that would need further support.
He said affected families could now still find work because it was fishing season and rice harvest season in other areas, but these income sources would soon dry up. “We are worried about the coming months,” he said.
Andrew Moore, country director for Save the Children International in Cambodia, said aid groups were concerned over growing debt levels among flood-affected families, as many had taken loans to invest in their now failed rice harvests, and would take on more debt to get by.
“One of our big concerns is the debt cycle that people find themselves in,” he said.
According to Mr. Vy, from the Disaster Committee, the government has reserved $144 million for the recovery effort, $50 million of which was provided through a loan from the Asian Development Bank.
During the flood crisis, officials were unable to explain how these funds were helping flood-affected communities, and Mr. Vy yesterday said he did not have details on how this money was being spent.
Koem Borei, director general of the department of public works at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said his department had so far received about $20 million for road rehabilitation work and was expecting another $20 million this month.
The European Union said Friday it provided about $3.1 million to aid groups Save the Children-Norway, the Danish Red Cross, Oxfam GB and Danish ChurchAid to provide food and non-food items such as hygiene kits and health care in 12 flood-affected provinces.