As Flooding Persists, Death Toll Hits 97

With the flood death toll nearing 100, the government decided on emergency measures yesterday to respond to severe flooding that has destroyed large swathes of paddy fields and left thousands of families displaced across the country.  

Flooding in 14 provinces around the Tonle Sap lake and Mekong River has killed at least 97 people, inundated 1,240 km of roads and damaged 40,000 hec­tares of rice fields, said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Si­phan.

During an emergency meeting yesterday presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the government agreed to set aside 220 billion riel, or about $55 million, to make sure flood victims have ac­cess to food and shelter.

“The government allocated this budget to tackle the flood issue,” Mr Siphan said. “We are prepared to give relief to the people.”

He added that action is also be­ing taken to repair roads, respond to health and sanitation issues and distribute paddy seed to farmers.

But even as much of Cambo­dia’s rural population continues to endure severe flooding, more rain and storms are on the horizon.

Tropical Storm Haitang is expected to hit northern Vietnam today before moving toward the upper Mekong River region in Laos and Thailand, said Chan Youtha, spokes­­­­man for the Ministry of Wa­ter Resources and Meteorology.

Tropical storm Haitang is expected to hit northern Vietnam today before moving toward the upper Mekong River region in Laos and Thailand, said Chan Youtha, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

“This storm will not hit Cambodia,” Mr Youtha said. “Cambodia will just be affected by some rain.”

He said that water levels are currently declining on the Mekong River in Stung Treng, Kratie and Kompong Cham provinces. However, waters are expected to rise today in Prey Veng, Kandal and Phnom Penh, he added.

Keo Vy, deputy director of the National Committee for Disaster Management’s information department, said that the flooding situation and weather had improved across most of the affected provinces.

During a visit to Kompong Thom province’s flood-stricken Baray district on Sunday, Mr Hun Sen announced that families of the dead would each receive two million riel, or about $500.

He also called on Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun to create communal paddy fields to be shared between communities and villages and asked Health Minister Mam Bunheng to check whether sickness was spreading as a result of the floods.

Mr Hun Sen urged officials not to wait for the floods to subside before preparing the paddy fields. “If we do it from now, we solve [the problem] on time,” he said.

At yesterday’s meeting at the prime minister’s office Mr Hun Sen advised a delay to the start of the school year and requested that temporary bridges be built in Siem Reap and Preah Vihear provinces where flooding has damaged roads, according to a statement released by the Council of Ministers.

Omphoeurn Kunvuth, provincial director of administration in Kompong Cham province, said officials had received orders from Mr Hun Sen yesterday via a videoconference to help flood victims and repair infrastructure.

“Provincial authorities are preparing to provide food [and] medicine to over 6,000 families evacuated by flooding,” he said.

Cambodian Red Cross spokesperson Men Neary Sopheak said that the government would take responsibility for providing rice to affected provinces.             “The Red Cross will cover items like canned fish, instant noodles, sarongs, kramas, blankets [and] plastic sheets for people who have no shelter,” she said.

Heng Sok, a disaster specialist at Plan International, said that around 20 people, mostly children, had drowned in Kompong Cham province since flooding first hit the area.

“Children are happy to play in the water, so if parents are not careful enough, they will drown,” he warned.

Plan International is distributing sanitation kits, including soap, water containers and filters, to prevent diarrhea and other diseases, he said.

Still, Mr Sok said that the relief efforts were being made harder because many relief organizations and officials were on holiday for Pchum Ben.

“At this time it is the holiday [so] we find it difficult to mobilize staff and cooperate with the authorities,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

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