s severe flooding continues to plague provinces along the Mekong River and around the Tonle Sap lake, new figures released by aid groups and officials yesterday showed that the scale of the disaster is far bigger than initially expected and could be worse than Typhoon Ketsana, which wreaked havoc on Cambodia in 2009.
According to the Cambodian Red Cross, nearly 40,000 families have now been evacuated to safe high-ground areas in five provinces alone, while a government official said that about 163,000 hectares of paddy fields are inundated with floodwaters in 14 provinces.
The figures represent a three-fold increase from the previous government estimates of the number of evacuees and a four-fold jump in the extent of flood damage to crops.
Cambodian Red Cross Deputy Secretary-General Men Neary Sopheak listed the numbers of evacuees reported by the organization’s local branches, which tallied up to 37,300 families that have been displaced by floods in Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Kandal, Kompong Chhnang and Siem Reap provinces. Forthcoming reports from other severely flooded provinces such as Kratie, Stung Treng and Prey Veng will likely further push up the number of victims.
“It’s worse than Ketsana,” Ms Neary Sopheak said, explaining that this month’s floods had struck 14 provinces compared to nine provinces during the typhoon, while the water was now receding much more slowly than in 2009. She said Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham were among the hardest-hit areas, as 18,000 and 6,000 families were displaced there, respectively, while another 35,000 families in Kompong Thom were living in flooded homes.
“Kompong Thom is the worst affected,” Ms Neary Sopheak said, adding that villagers there suffered more from floods than people in the provinces along the Mekong River. “Along the Mekong, they are better prepared. They have tall houses and know the safety areas. In Kompong Thom, they do not,” Ms Neary Sopheak said.
Ms Neary Sopheak also painted a grim picture of the situation in Kompong Cham province, where she said groups of several hundred to 1,000 families were stranded—together with their animals—in more than 100 high-lying areas, such as hills, pagodas or schools that are completely surrounded by water.
“In those safety areas, there is no place to accommodate the people as well as animals,” she said.
The Cambodian Red Cross had been delivering food, clothing and shelter materials to 5,000 families in Kompong Cham in recent days and would distribute supplies to 1,178 families in Kompong Thom’s Stong district today, she added.
In Kratie province, meanwhile, governor Kham Phoeun said about 1,400 families had been evacuated, while 9,000 families’ homes were flooded and 16 people had died.
“Now, we are working with the NGOs to help people out,” he said. “Kratie City is flooded and people cannot do any business, but I think it will subside in three or four days.”
Francis Perez, country lead of international aid agency Oxfam, said evacuated families, as well as many of those who had managed to stay in their flooded homes, were in need of food, water and sanitation.
“Many have lost food supplies and have lost their income due to the floods,” he said, adding that out of the 18,000 families in Kompong Thom that need emergency aid, so far only 7,000 had received help.
Mr Perez also said that the impact of this year’s floods was probably worse than Typhoon Ketsana, which displaced 42,000 families in nine provinces. “It sounds like it’s very close to what we have seen during Ketsana,” he said. “The number of deaths has already exceeded Ketsana.”
Mr Perez noted that the government was taking a more active coordinating role during the current disaster than in 2009, adding, however, that more national-level leadership was still needed.
Keo Vy, deputy director of the National Committee for Disaster Management’s information department, said the committee was still collecting information from the provinces, and he could not yet corroborate the Cambodian Red Cross’ numbers on evacuees.
“The provinces facing serious floods are Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham and Prey Veng,” he said, adding that he believed the total death toll would rise above 100.
Mr Vy said the area of inundated paddy field across 14 affected provinces had been totaled at 163,473 hectares—about 7 percent of the country’s total planted rice.
Aid workers have said that rice fields will become damaged if floods last more than 10 days. Some areas around the Tonle Sap have been suffering from flooding for weeks already.
The government has so far set aside $55 million and 1,700 metric tons of rice for provincial authorities to help affected families. Each household who lost a family member will receive $500.
Mekong water levels in the provinces north of Phnom Penh are slowly beginning to drop, according to data from the Mekong River Commission website.
However, as the water moves south, the Mekong was forecast to reach flood levels in Prey Veng’s Neak Loeung commune in coming days, while the Tonle Sap River will likely flood at Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district and the Bassac River will reach flood levels at Sa’ang district in Kandal province, the MRC said.
River levels in Phnom Penh are forecast to rise slightly but will stay below the flood threshold, according to the MRC.