Although the Mekong has reached its highest level in 70 years, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said he is confident Phnom Penh won’t flood, and he urged city residents not to panic.
By Thursday morning the Mekong River had reached 11.05 meters in Phnom Penh, above the 1929 record of 10.99 meters, he said.
But city authorities are working to divert flood waters while dikes around the city will hold, the premier promised.
“Phnom Penh will not be a problem,” he told farmers in the flooded village of Peam Ta’ek in L’vea Em district, Kandal province.
The prime minister also appealed to vendors not to profiteer off the floods by raising food prices. Before floods threatened the capital, the price of a kilogram of ordinary rice was around 800 riel, Agence France-Presse reported. It now costs about 1,100 riel.
Journalists contribute to the problem by printing alarmist stories that might provoke runs on food supplies, Hun Sen said. “Don’t believe what you read in the newspapers,” he told the villagers.
The premier waded through knee-deep water to address a crowd of several hundred and hand over emergency kits of food, clothing and cash to 2,000 families around Peam Ta’ek.
He said he would do everything he could to help families suffering from the floods, but certain things are beyond his power.
“I contributed to toppling the Khmer Rouge regime and to ending the civil war, but I cannot stop the flood,” he said.
Earlier this week meteorologists estimated the Mekong would reach 11.2 meters on Saturday—high enough for it to flood its banks for the first time in the city’s history. But on Thursday authorities lowered their prediction to 11.11 meters, while warning they expect the river will continue to rise.
Across the country, thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed and dozens of people have drowned in what some say are the worst floods to afflict Cambodia in years.
The International Red Cross earlier this week appealed for $1.13 million to help with flood relief in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The US government this week contributed $25,000 to the Cambodian effort, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said.
On Thursday TV3 ran a flood-relief telethon, and on Sunday Phnom Penh Municipality will hold a Khmer classical music concert at Wat Phnom to raise more money.
Hun Sen said he is soliciting donations from rich friends, and he urged others to step forward to help.
In Kandal, one of the hardest-hit provinces, more than 70,000 families have been affected, and 22 people have drowned, Hun Sen said.
Peam Ta’ek, on a narrow spit of land between the Tonle Sap and Mekong, is half-submerged by the overflow of the two rivers. Villagers have brought their livestock to shelter there and about a hundred head of cattle now graze in the village graveyard.
About a kilometer south of the village on the other side of the Tonle Sap, roughly a dozen small banana plantations are completely submerged. The tops of trees and roofs of abandoned houses are all that remain visible above the water.
Lach Tha, 48, came from neighboring Kres Leu village to hear the prime minister speak.
Her brother, Lach Proh, 44, drowned last week when he was swept out of a fishing boat during a fierce storm that also destroyed 90 houses in the area.
Lach Tha’s children died during the Pol Pot regime and her husband also died recently.
“I still had my brother to help me and my old mother,” she said through tears. “Now I have lost everything.”