Gov’t Tallies Cost of 2002 Disasters

The government Tuesday estimated the cost of this year’s drought and flooding at $33 million during a two-day workshop reviewing the nation’s disaster management activities.

The freak weather conditions that killed 29 people and destroyed property and a good portion of the nation’s rice crop this year have affected 2 million people, according to the National Committee for Disaster Management. Earlier this month the World Food Program announced that 6,500 tons of rice is needed this month to prevent widespread hunger.

Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said of the total damages, flooding was responsible for losses of $12 million. Most of the 29 killed were children.

Although agricultural advisers said earlier this week the combined environmental disasters made this year’s rice harvest the worst since 1995, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday that the nation’s preparedness meant this year’s crop loss was less severe than in the past.

Although extreme weather conditions have left Cambodia short 140,000 tons of rice, Hun Sen said, the problem is under control due to swift government provisions and emergency aid packages.

“I think this problem can be resolved because of provided aid and the government’s efforts,” he said.

The prime minister went on to promise that the shortages would not mean death for Cambodia’s poorest. “Lack of food is an issue,” Hun Sen said. “But starvation will not occur.”

Farmers who come to Phnom Penh to request aid in front of the Royal Palace were “not real victims,” Hun Sen said. Real victims do not have time to come to the capital, he said.

Despite the prime minister’s generally upbeat tone, he did ask disaster management teams to work harder in response to such natural phenomenon.

“We should not let the work come to us,” he said. “We should seek the work.” Rescuers also need better training in order to help victims of flood and drought, he added.

“One of the government’s key challenges is to minimize the threat from natural disasters,” Hun Sen said.

Tao Seng Huor, a member of the government’s Council for Agriculture Development, said the government is trying to make up for the shortage by promoting crops in areas where water sources are plentiful. The government is also offering a food-for-work plan under which farmers receive rice in exchange for help building irrigation canals in rice fields, which will in turn help minimize the damage caused by future floods.

“We are intervening in many ways, directly or indirectly, to address the people’s difficulties in a timely manner,” Tao Seng Huor said.

(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)


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