Boat Carrying Aid for Flood Victims Sinks

Government says more than 10,000 tons of rice delivered to families so far

A boat carrying more than 10 tons of milled rice and other food aid for about 450 flood victims sank on the Tonle Sap river in Kom­pong Chhnang province Thursday, Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) officials said yesterday.

The CRC boat that sank, which was carrying food for families in Cholkiri district’s Cholsa commune, including instant noodles and cans of sardines, was lost in the river or was damaged, said Prak Sophorn, the provincial Red Cross director. Another 5 tons of rice were saved from the water.

The boat was one of four hired by the CRC from local villagers to deliver rice and other food to nearly 1,400 families in Cholkiri district, Mr. Sophorn said, and was a mere 2 km from its destination when it was scuttled by an unattended leak.

The boat owner, who could not be identified by provincial authorities, reportedly offered to sell the damaged rice as feed for livestock to repay the CRC, Mr. Sophorn said. He added that while the boat owner is technically responsible for the lost food items, the CRC will not ask him to pay for the damaged food.

About 230,000 hectares of rice paddy were destroyed during the floods that have inundated large parts of the country over the past few months, and 250 people—at least half of them children—have died.

The CRC, working on behalf of the government, and NGOs like Oxfam and Caritas have delivered about 10,750 tons of rice to more than 430,000 families whose livelihoods were ravaged, said Keo Vy, cabinet chief for the National Com­mittee for Disaster Manage­ment.

Mr. Vy said the first phase of emergency aid distribution concluded last month.

“Provincial au­thorities and the CRC have studied [the current situation] and after that we will offer food-for-work as a means of continued assistance,” he said. “For families who are really poor and need the emergency as­sistance, we will provide for them again.”

Men Neary Sopheak, CRC dep­uty secretary-general, said the rice ruined in Thursday’s boat sinking has already been replaced by the CRC and will be distributed by Wednesday.

While early flood relief efforts garnered harsh criticism for the lack of coordination between the government, the CRC and NGOs, some now say the process has improved.

“In general, for the amount of need, the government has been able to provide for the number of families,” said Kim Rattana, director of the Catholic-run NGO Cari­tas, which aims to improve disaster management in Cambodia. “We can say that almost all the affected families got some support.”

Mr. Rattana said the coordination between government and non-government relief has im­proved to the point where he feels confident the most urgent needs will be met as the relief enters its next phase. “So far, we have seen that they did it well,” he said, “although not all those who had less urgent need have been served.”

But in Kompong Thom’s San­tuk district, rice farmer Yem Sinat said her family has yet to receive any help for their 0.5 hectares of rice paddy destroyed after more than two months underwater.

Kom­pong Thom’s farmers were among the hardest hit in the floods, and Ms. Sinat’s land lies too far away from a water source to plant new crops this year.

“Nowadays, I [use loaned money] to buy milled rice for eating,” Ms. Sinat said. “I need aid assistance, but I don’t know who can provide it for me.”

  (Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)

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