Even the poorest rural families rarely resort to eating casava. Usually when there is hunger and low food supplies, they always find an alternative to cassava.
But in recent weeks, starving villagers in Oddar Meanchey province have “started devouring” the starchy plant, provincial officials said Thursday.
“The situation of starvation is critical here in our province,” Mao Tim, provincial first deputy governor, said by telephone.
Rice crops that locals traditionally depend on for subsistence survival have been destroyed by a combination of floods and drought and many villagers are hunting local wildlife and resorting to eating cassava to survive, Mao Tim said.
More than 2,500 starving families are in serious need of emergency food aid, Mao Tim warned.
Cassava, which needs to be carefully washed before cooking to avoid poisoning, has already sickened two starving families in Samraong district this week, Mao Tim added.
Nhim Vanda, first vice president for the national disaster management committee, said the province’s hunger situation is the worst of all affected provinces and could become even more severe in the coming months.
Villagers in Oddar Meanchey, Kompong Speu and Pursat provinces and some districts of Banteay Meanchey province are facing dire starvation, Nhim Vanda said.
The widespread hunger is the result of a two-year continual drought and flood cycle, which has culminated in a depletion of food supplies in several areas of the northwest.
The Cambodian Red Cross and other food programs have been distributing food aid, and the government is studying new packages for the emergency, Nhim Vanda said.
Mao Tim said that his officials have collected 5 tons of rice,
and will distribute 10 kg of rice to each family. He appealed to local people and the government to aid his starving citizens.
“We want emergency aid for people, or they will hunt wildlife and eat wild roots,” he said.
Though the situation is dire, Nhim Vanda said he is optimistic about this year’s steady supply of rain, which bodes well for next year’s rice crop. But it will not arrive nearly soon enough for Oddar Meanchey’s cassava-eating poor.
“Wherever I go, the poor always ask me for aid,” he said.
Mao Tim warned that a good rice crop is not assured, as a drought could easily set in before harvest. He said rice cultivation is already late this year, and the rice fields are threatened due to lack of water.
In a twist of weather irony, many rice fields are lacking an adequate water supply because flash floods have washed away rice-field dikes. In response, Oddar Meanchey farmers have altered their planting technique to adjust for the water situation.
Meanwhile, flash flooding from heavy downpours in the Dangrek mountain range have flooded districts of Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces, badly damaging two roads.
Banteay Meanchey Governor Thach Khorn reported 270 meters of provincial road have flooded in Thma Puok district, along with part of National Route 56 in Oddar Meanchey, both of which further complicate food distribution programs.