Even Boats Have Trouble Making It To Flooded Villages
leuk dek district, Kandal province – To get rice out to needy people in the flood-swollen countryside is no easy task. It takes trucks and boats—and a lot of time and patience.
For the US Embassy and CARE International, it took almost 24 hours to make a delivery of 300 25-kg bags of rice and 300 blankets they wanted to distribute at Prek Tunlorp village, a dry spot along the Mekong just south of the Neak Luong ferry.
The trip began last Thursday morning when a truck carrying the rice and blankets left Phnom Penh and slowly negotiated down National Route 1, which was nearly washed out in several spots.
At the 43-km mark, just south of Samrong Thom village, the road became impassable. A dirt road to a small ferry landing had not stood up to the punishment of heavily-laden trucks and a week of torrential rain. The mud was nearly knee-deep and unbelievably slippery. A bulldozer on the site used chains to free some trucks from the muck and tow them closer to the river bank.
The rice and blankets were taken off the truck and carried downstream by boat. At the planned landing site, the Mekong has flooded 150 meters inland. The water was knee-deep in some places and well over a meter deep in others. There was no way to land a loaded boat without running aground.
Villagers tried to help out by building an impromptu dock out from the shore, but the boat still couldn’t land. So smaller rowboats had to ferry the rice in almost sack-by-sack. It was 5 o’clock in the morning before the goods were all ashore.
Later Friday morning, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann led a convoy of embassy officials, flood relief workers and the media down the same truck-and-boat path for a ceremony and the distribution of the goods.
In the pouring rain, one member of each family waiting to receive a donation turned in a slip of paper, balanced the 25-kg bag of rice and blanket on his or her head, and trudged through the rain to whatever shelter they had.
While the rice took a strange route in reaching the villagers of Leuk Dek district, the money to pay for it took an equally peculiar path.
A banner at the ceremony proclaimed the goods were donated by Chandi Duke Heffner, whose name is most familiar to readers of gossip columns in US newspapers.
Heffner was living in the US state of Hawaii when she met Doris Duke, an elderly and immensely rich women who inherited a fortune first built by her grandfather James Duke, who founded the American Tobacco Company, makers of the Lucky Strike and Pall Mall brands.
Heffner and Doris Duke became so close that the heiress legally adopted the much-younger Heffner. When Duke died, there was a messy battle over her will for many years, but when it was over, Heffner was reported to have received as much as $60 million.
She has been active in charity work in India, and she visited Cambodia for a week recently at the urging of some American friends. She took a helicopter tour of the country, was moved by what she saw, and made her own personal contribution to flood relief.
When the waters finally recede, CARE and other relief groups will begin distributing rice seed, in hopes farmers can quickly get a new crop into the ground.
The rule of thumb is that 1 kg of rice seed becomes 50 kg of rice. Given the difficulties in distribution, relief workers can’t wait to switch over to rice seed.