thpong district, Kompong Speu province – With the worst of the hot season yet to come and no respite in sight, an estimated 500,000 Cambodians are facing food shortages in the wake of one of the worst droughts to hit the country in recent years, officials said.
“This year’s drought is worse than compared to past years,” Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said Monday.
“There are 300 communes in 14 provinces that have been hit hard by the drought,” he said.
With many parts of the country having little to no rain since November, Nhim Vanda said three provinces in particular—Kompong Speu, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng—have been listed as being the most seriously hit. A total of 500,000 hectares of rice paddies have been affected by the drought, he said, but 200,000 hectares of that was saved.
The World Food Program is planning to distribute 1,000 tons of emergency rice to villagers and is currently working out a distribution plan, Deputy Country Director Ramaraj Saravanamuttu said Monday.
“Obviously we would like to get it out as soon as possible,” Saravanamuttu said.
But, a proper plan is needed to ensure that the rice gets to those who most need it and that it is not diverted to other causes, he added.
Saravanamuttu said that an amount equal to about 200,000 tons of milled rice has been lost to the drought but the WFP would not be replacing that complete amount because some of the rice lost would include the surplus stocks of farmers.
While he couldn’t say how many people would receive emergency food relief, Saravanamuttu said many will need long-term assistance to ensure they can survive because many have lost their crops and seeds.
“At this stage it’s a little more serious than normal,” he said. “But I don’t know where you would call it a major disaster.”
Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, said the worst-hit areas are those that do not have any bodies of water nearby and no irrigation systems.
He said the ministries of water, environment and agriculture, as well as RCAF soldiers, have been trying to help people by pumping water to irrigate fields, but many Cambodians will still face food shortages.
He said Kompong Speu province was the hardest-hit area. “We cannot even feed the cows with the grass because it is too dry,” 39-year-old Nol Mon said as his wife and four children gathered around Tuesday in Tuol Amphoeul village in Kompong Speu’s Thpong district. “Everything is destroyed.”
Nol Mon said his family had planted what rice seeds they had but after starting to grow, the plants were stunted and died, leaving him without seeds for next year’s crop.
“I’ve never seen such a drought like this before,” he said. Nol Mon had turned to cutting nearby trees and turning them into charcoal that could be sold to buy food, but even that carried risks.
Several weeks ago, local authorities confiscated his ox cart and have been coming down hard on other villagers in the area.
“Now we don’t know what to do,” he said. “They are very strict, so I don’t know how to make money.”
The only alternative has been to borrow money at high interest rates and hope for rain and a good harvest soon, he added.