One-third of flooding deaths so far have been children
Continuing flooding along the Mekong River and around the Tonle Sap lake is taking a severe toll on local communities, government officials said Friday, as they released preliminary figures showing that 62 people had been killed in the floods, 5,000 families had been displaced, and 20,000 homes flooded.
With severe flooding expected to worsen along the Mekong River in coming days, officials held an emergency meeting with aid organizations in Phnom Penh to plan for a large-scale relief effort to help the evacuated families, most of which are stranded on higher grounds with little or no shelter, food or water.
“We need the support and donation from all NGO partners because flooding this year is on a big scale,” said Ly Thuch, second vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, adding that the Mekong River is expected to rise further to levels not seen in a decade.
“This flooding will be serious, similar to the flooding to 2000 and 2001,” he said, referring to the last major Mekong flooding that destroyed almost one-fifth of Cambodia’s harvest.
Evacuated families, Mr Thuch said, “need rapid response of food supplies and shelter. After the water subsides, they also need support because their crops are damaged.”
At the meeting, aid groups urged the disaster management committee to coordinate relief operations, share information on affected communities and help address the needs of evacuated families.
“My request is to work on health and sanitation because the health situation is at risk recently,” said Manish Mehta, humanitarian program manager at Oxfam Great Britain.
“There is a big gap in water, sanitation and health. No NGOs are working on this,” he said, adding that recent reports were showing an increase in the number of evacuated people who are suffering from diseases such as diarrhea.
Flooding in provinces around the Tonle Sap lake and in Preah Vihear province began earlier this month but have worsened with continuing rains, while a rapidly rising Mekong has flooded districts in provinces along the river.
According to disaster committee information released late Friday, 62 people had died in 10 provinces due to flooding, 4,974 families—or about 20,000 people—were evacuated from their homes, while 21,425 families had their homes flooded.
The committee also said that 83 homes had been destroyed, 78,206 hectares of crops were inundated, along with 216 km of roads under water, while hundreds of schools and pagodas were submerged.
Kompong Cham, Prey Veng, Kratie and Kompong Thom provinces are among the worst hit, according to officials, who said the overall number of affected and displaced people would rise, as they were still waiting on reports from Kandal, Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces.
Pon Narith, the committee’s secretary-general, said officials were concerned over Mekong River water levels, which are forecast to rise further during the next few days.
“We worry about more flooding along the Mekong River in provinces like Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Cham, Kandal and Prey Veng,” Mr Narith said. He added, however, that the impact from the flooding would probably be less severe than in 2001 due to improved water management infrastructure.
Mr Mehta, from Oxfam, said the longer the floods continued, the more crops and evacuees would suffer.
“When people are gathered in one place, the public health is at threat. Food is always a problem, because this hunger season… they don’t have enough food,” Mr Metha said, adding that if paddy fields stay inundated with water longer than 10 days, the crops will be damaged.
Oxfam had so far provided 3,000 families in Kompong Thom province with emergency supplies, such as shelter, blankets and food, and the organization has supplies for 4,000 more families, he said.
Mr Metha added that the floods’ impact might be slightly less severe than during Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, as flooding had been less sudden and people had managed to salvage their remaining food supplies and belongings. During Typhoon Ketsana, 40,000 families were forced to evacuate almost immediately leading them to lose their food supplies.
Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management at the Cambodian Red Cross, said the organization had been handing out emergency aid to 1,818 families in Kompong Thom province and to 700 families in Kompong Chhnang province.
Mr Sam Ath said he had received reports that a 47-year-old man and 27-year-old man had drowned in Kompong Thom’s Prasat Sambo and Sandan districts on Thursday, while he also had been informed of two separate cases of snakebite in the same districts.
The venomous snakes had sought refuge from flooding in boats and had bitten fishermen who had boarded their vessels, according to Mr Sam Ath. “When the water rises like this, all the snakes get up in the trees, roofs and boats,” he said, adding that the two men were recovering in the hospital.
Mr Sam Ath said he expected the number of displaced people to increase, as flooding along both the Mekong River and Tonle Sap lake would worsen. On Thursday, flash floods in areas around Siem Reap City forced the evacuation of more than 200 tourists and 100 families by helicopters and boats from the locations surrounding the Angkor Archaeological Park’s Banteay Srei temple.
Siem Reap governor Sou Phirin said Friday that water levels had subsided, adding that visitors to the temples at Angkor Wat were no longer affected.