Flood Impact Estimates Rise; 1 Million Affected

More than two weeks into the biggest flooding to hit Cambodia in a decade, the government was again forced to issue an upward revision of the disaster’s impact, stating that floods have now af­fected about 272,000 families and killed 206 people.

This is a drastic increase over previous estimates, and victims of the flooding now number more than 1 million.

Floodwaters are meanwhile ex­pected to remain high, putting 13 percent of the na­tion’s rice harvest at risk of de­struction, an official said yesterday. Half of that area is already lost.

Keo Vy, deputy director of the National Committee for Disaster Management’s information de­part­ment, said 272,201 families were affected by floods—up from last week’s estimate of 213,000 families—while 32,000 families had fled their homes.

Mr Vy said 17 out of 23 prov­inces were considered emergency areas, while the death toll has risen from 172 to 206.

“As of [Friday], 62,156 families have received help from the government, the Red Cross, charitable people and aid NGOs,” he said.

A detailed assessment of how many families still require aid was not included in the report.

The floods cover 357,042 hec­tares of paddy, he said, while 150,000 hectares of rice had been destroyed. “The water is going to start to subside in two or three days,” Mr Vy said. “If the water doesn’t subside, more crops will be destroyed.”

The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agri­culture said last week that it was un­likely that the government would be able to carry out its plan to re­plant the lost crop this year, as it lacked the required amount of rice seeds with a short growing cycle.

Although Mekong River water levels have slowly begun to drop in recent days, flooding remains high in many places, while prov­inces around the Tonle Sap lake have suffered increased flooding due to heavy rains, according to Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management at the Cambodian Red Cross.

“The water of the Tonle Sap is still rising up. The Mekong is going down, but the water is stuck at Prek Kdam” at the mouth of the Tonle Sap River in Kandal prov­ince, he said.

“The water cannot flow out of the Tonle Sap lake.”

Mr Sam Ath said that, on average, a Cambodian family had 4.2 members, and this would bring the total flood victims up to about 1.1 million people.

He said the Red Cross had helped about 36,000 families in total, but 20,000 families had re­ceived support from local branches, which give “less items and less quantity” than the central Red Cross.

The organization had received generous support from the government, Mr Sam Ath said, which added 1,700 tons of rice to the Red Cross’ donations.

Aid NGOs, however, have strug­gled to gain any cooperation from the government and have criticized the disaster management committee for sharing little information with them and failing to coordinate their emergency response.

Heng Sok, a disaster specialist at Plan International, said NGOs had sent a letter to the committee last week to request a coordination meeting. But, he added: “We don’t get a reply yet.”

About a dozen NGOs have been providing emergency assistance, but most have now exhausted their budgets and are looking for additional funding, he said.

The Australian government’s development agency, Ausaid, wanted to offer support, but could not do so, as the Cambodian government failed to issue a call for assistance—which Ausaid needs to re­lease funds.

“Ausaid are waiting for the call from the government, but until now the government has not called for support,” he said, adding that the UN’s World Food Pro­gram might support the NGOs.

Ausaid could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Sok said the flood disaster was now “much bigger” than the 2000 to 2001 Mekong floods.

He added that the government’s impact figures kept in­creasing, as the disaster management committee had to wait for the field reports from the various provinces to be completed.

Aid groups have estimated that many tens of thousands of families still await emergency supplies. Kom­pong Thom provincial governor Chhun Chhorn said that in his province alone, about 12,000 families still require aid.

“The water has not yet receded. It’s still going up,” he said.

The UN’s World Food Pro­gram said last week that it was considering carrying out an emergency operation to help NGOs and the government.

The Council of Ministers on Sept 26 announced that it had earmarked $55 million for emergency measures to help during the flooding.

However, aid groups, government spokesmen and the disaster management committee have so far been unable to say how the money is being used to help flood victims in the field.

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