One week ago, the ground underneath Klang Sokhoeun’s house was dry.
Yesterday morning, water from the Tonle Sap River threatened to spill onto her floor.
Klang Sokhoeun runs a tiny vegetable stand out of her house in Deum Slaing village, Meanchey district—a community where everyone is poised for high water and hard times.
“My business will go down when the flooding gets worse,” she said Wednesday morning, with a resigned smile on her face.
Villagers must use boats to buy produce from Klong Sokhoeun. All the streets in Deum Slaing are watery channels, all its doorsteps lead into the swelling Tonle Sap.
A few enterprising villagers make money by offering ferry services and toll bridges about town, profiting from the floods. But most people’s livelihoods hang in the balance.
The waters have already driven 238 families out of their homes in this area, according to the Cambodian Red Cross. Over the past seven days, the river has risen too fast, too suddenly and too high for many people to hold on to their houses.
These displaced families are currently crowded into a week-old shantytown, hastily built at the nearby Chbar Ampoa pagoda. Its huts are a hodgepodge of torn plastic and bamboo, leaning into cramped and muddy alleyways.
Chea Lon is chief of the band of families living at the pagoda. Before the floods came, he ran a small market in Deum Slaing village.
He is 72 years old. Though the floods come to Deum Slaing every year, he has never seen the flooding this bad, this early in the season.
“Last year, the water wasn’t this high until the middle of August,” he said. “This is the year of the dragon, and so the water is big.”
“These are all poor people living here—porters, construction workers, jobless people,” Chea Lon said Wednesday. Poverty has only made the impact of the floods hit harder.
“If they stay in those conditions for a long time, it may cause diarrhea, because of the lack of sanitation,” said Uy Sam Ath, director of the Disaster Management Department at the CRC.
The CRC and the Phnom Penh Municipal government will distribute rice, blankets, plastic sheets, sarongs, kramas, fish sauce and soy sauce to the displaced villagers at Chbar Ampoa pagoda Saturday morning.
The CRC will also build more latrines in the area and a first aid tent for emergency care.
Wednesday, truckloads of dirt were being loaded into the pagoda to construct dams, so that it too would not go into the water.
Flooding has been rampant throughout Cambodia over the past few weeks. On Wednesday the Mekong River rose to 21.85 meters in Kratie and to 15.28 meters in Kompong Cham, according to the Department of Hydrology and River Works.
An estimated 361 families have lost their homes in Kratie so far. The CRC will distribute supplies to them on Sunday, officials said Thursday.