chero i commune, Kompong Cham province – Storms and heavy flooding during the past 10 days have killed four people here, and have driven over 1,000 from their homes, according to local officials.
One adult and three children died in a storm Friday when their boat capsized in Koh Samrong village. Normally a small island in the Mekong, Koh Samrong village has been completely overtaken by the river’s water.
For fear of strong currents, boats were not making trips to Koh Samrong Sunday.
According to a report by the National Committee for Disaster Management to Prime Minister Hun Sen, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse, flooding in six Cambodian provinces has affected 16,588 families and left 1,680 families homeless.
“[Because of] our limited capacity we can only help in some areas,” Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management at the Cambodian Red Cross, told the AFP.
One thousand families have been driven from their houses in Chero I commune, and 650 hectares of corn fields have been destroyed, according to Uch Sareth, deputy police chief of the commune.
In nearby Kompong Cham town, the swollen Mekong rose within centimeters of street level, just a few blocks from the town’s central market. Kompong Cham is Cambodia’s third largest city.
Floods are a yearly reality for people who live on Cambodia’s rivers. But this year, that reality has been extraordinarily cruel.
“Some people knew the floods were coming—many others didn’t,” Uch Sareth said.
Cambodians are used to the waters rising in the middle of August. But never in the middle of July, as they have this year.
“This flooding is not normal—it’s very strange that the floods came this early,” said Chhoun Nheap, 68. “We are very desperate.”
Chhoun Nheap has been living at the Roka Thom pagoda for five days. As of Sunday, there were at least 20 families taking refuge from the flooded Chero I commune there.
But even the high ground of the monastery has been invaded. On Sunday the Mekong rose up to its steps and filled its courtyard. All the refugees from the floods were crowded into the sanctuary.
The men from this group have to stay and guard the family homes from being smashed by floating logs and trees.
When the Mekong is not flowing over their fields, most people in Chero I commune farm corn and tobacco. Last year, they managed to yield two harvests, but this year the early floods intervened.
“All the crops were toppled down into the water,” Chhoun Nheap said Sunday.
Cambodian Red Cross officials estimate that almost 20,000 hectares of rice and nearly 7,000 hectares of other cropshave been destroyed by the flooding, AFP reported.
No cattle were reported as killed by the floods.
Fortunately on Sunday the water dropped in Kompong Cham for the first time since July 14, according to Uch Sareth, going down 10 centimeters.
But Uch Sareth is afraid that the water may rise again.
“As far as I know, this year the flooding will take a long time to recede. In August, the water may just come back,” he said.
The long period under water could spell widespread sickness in Chero I commune.
“Among more than 1,000 people in my commune, maybe 300 know about proper sanitation,” Uch Sareth said.
People staying at the Roka Thom monastery have been using flood water as their drinking source.
Others among the 1,000 families displaced from the Chero I commune have relocated to Kompong Cham town, many of them to stay with friends and relatives, according to Uch Sareth.