As Drought Relief Ends, Hunger Fears Remain

The National Committee for Disaster Management said Tues­day that it has completed its emer­­­­gency irrigation of drought-hit rice paddies, while warning that in some areas the effects of this year’s drought could spell hun­ger.

Serey Kosal, second deputy president of the committee, said Tuesday that the government has finished its drought relief efforts for this rainy season’s rice crop. Pumping, however, will continue for those beginning to plant dry season rice crops.

The rainy season rice harvest accounts for more than 90 percent of the nation’s crop while the dry season accounts for less than 10 percent, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture.

“We are very satisfied with our effort to help the rice fields, al­though we could help only some of the rice fields,” he said after participating in this week’s Asean Ministerial Meeting on Disaster in Phnom Penh.

“With our help, people will have rice, [more] than if there was no help,” Serey Kosal said.

At the meeting, the committee repeated statistics it had first announced last month: One-tenth of the nation’s 2 million hectares of rice fields had been threatened by drought and of those 200,000 hectares, the government has saved approximately half.

NCDM First Deputy President Nhim Vanda said Tuesday that the end of the emergency water pumping does not mean the end of the threat posed by the lack of rain.

“We are still concerned that next year we will lack food,” he said, adding that the government has already distributed 500 tons of rice to 200,000 needy people and will ask the World Food Program for more donations at a Dec 14 meeting.

Reached Tuesday, Ramaraj Saravanamuttu, deputy country director of the WFP, said he could not comment on whether the government’s rainy season efforts succeeded in stemming the drought emergency. He said that conclusion awaits further assessment by the NCDM.

Nhim Vanda said that some provinces—notably Prey Veng, Kompong Speu, Pursat, Kom­pong Cham and Banteay Mean­chey—will lack rice after a weakened rainy-season harvest this month and next, and that people living there will need aid.

Ntenda Kamina of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organiza­tion said Tuesday that the amount of harvest lost to the drought cannot yet be measured without knowing the type of irrigation used on each hectare of paddy. Rain-supported fields yield low amounts of rice, while well-irrigated fields yield much more, he said.

He noted that, in general, Cam­bodian paddy fields yield about half what fields in Vietnam and Thailand do because of poor water management.

“There is no ecological explanation for the difference with those countries,” he said.

The need for water control technology was evident this week to farmers in Battambang’s Thmar Koul district. Farmers there have resorted to the expensive option of trucking in water to try to save roadside paddies.

The farmers said they need 40 to 60 truckloads of water to save a hectare and are charged about $1.50 per truck, a price they can barely afford.

“This is the first time we have done it,” farmer Sok Khon said Monday. “In the Khmer Rouge time, they built more canals and dams to irrigate…. Cambodia is walking back in agriculture.”

Too far from the road, Che Ry said he would have tried trucking in water if he could have. “I am hopeless…I will get less than 20 percent of my rice crop [this year].”

Veng Sokhon, secretary of state of the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology, said Tuesday that the government has asked donors to fund dam repairs but that they are only interested in providing money for local organizations involved in social issues.

He reiterated that only 10 percent of the nation’s rice paddy was threatened by drought this year.

In Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, Phnom Baht commune Chief Sem Sophal said late last month that 200 out of 700 hectares in his commune could not be salvaged because they were too far from any water source for pumps to work.

“We really want help [with food] during the dry season next year,” said local farmer Som Phat, 40. “My rice is completely damaged this year.”

But, she said, rice donations are politicized. “If CPP officials visit, pro-CPP people get…. If Sam Rainsy officials call for a meeting, pro-SRP people get [assistance],” she said.

“We really need food, regardless of political party,” Sem Sophal said.

(Reporting by Yun Samean, Thet Sambath, Nhem Chea Bunly, and Erik Wasson)



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