PM Appeals For Outside Flood Help

Worried the rainy season’s floods will compound this year’s drought, Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared a “disaster situation” for the country, asking the government, international donors and NGOs to rush aid to stricken Cambodians.

“Although responses have been carried out, the scope of damage resulting from this severe drought and floods [is]…causing deep concern,” the prime minister wrote in a declaration released to the media over the weekend.

In some parts of Cambodia, still-rising water levels are at levels comparable to 2000, when the worst flooding in decades caused millions of dollars in damage, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported Friday on its Web site.

The rising waters will aggravate the damage already done by the nation’s worst drought since 1995, Hun Sen wrote in his declaration. As it stands, less than 37 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million hectares of potential rice fields has been cultivated due to drought, the declaration stated.

The water level in Kompong Cham province on Sunday morning was measured at 15.92 meters—above the 15.2-meter warning stage but short of the 16.2 meter flood level, according to the Mekong River Commission’s Web site.

Already, provincial officials have evacuated more than 50,000 families from six districts and crammed them into Tbong Khmum district, Kompong Cham Second Deputy Governor Mao Phirun said. Six people have drowned in the province, he added.

In Kompong Cham town Sunday morning, residents were finding that anti-flooding measures can cause their own problems. It rained Sunday, and with sandbags piled up to a meter high along the riverfront and the sewers already brimming, the rain had nowhere to go but the streets. The eastern section of the town was awash with shin-deep, brackish water that looked like coffee but smelled like dead fish and manure.

“Our abilities are limited. We’ve been trying for 10 days, but if the water is too strong, we won’t be able to stop the flooding,” Kompong Cham district Governor Thuch That said, sitting on a plastic chair with water lapping his legs as he watched the town’s two pumps sling water back into the Mekong.

Kratie and Stung Treng provinces were also listed at the “warning stage” on Sunday by the MRC. Kratie’s water level was below the 23-meter flood-level mark at 22.42 meters and was expected to continue dropping today and tomorrow, according to the MRC.

Kratie has seen at least two deaths, both of them children, due to floods, officials said.

Stung Treng’s level was measured at 11.16 meters—short of the 12-meter flood-level and also expected to continue falling through the week.

At Phnom Penh Port on the Tonle Sap river, the MRC measured the water level at 9.14 meters—short of both the 9.5-meter “alarm level” and the 11-meter flood level. Water level was forecast to rise slightly today and then begin falling on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The rain has apparently abated in the upper Mekong, in Laos and Cambodia, so officials are holding out hope the worst has passed, National Committee for Disaster Management First Vice President Nhim Vanda said.

“If there’s no heavy rains in the upstream countries, the water will recede very quickly,” Nhim Vanda said.

Nonetheless, authorities mobilized relief and rescue resources, even before the prime minister’s directive.

Hun Sen issued a statement Friday calling on the military to be prepared to evacuate people to safe areas if the situation worsens.

On Thursday, Hun Sen said he had canceled trips to this month’s Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the UN General Assembly next month to deal with the floods, The Associated Press reported.

From Beijing, King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath last week offered 200 tons of rice to the Cambodian Red Cross and 200 tons to the Cambodian National Committee for Disaster Management to assist flood victims, Nhim Vanda said. The government has chipped in with 1,300 tons of rice, he said.

The relief may not be enough for some Cambodians.

“My farm was destroyed by the flooding and now my food has run out,” Kandal province farmer Sen Sath, 42, said. “My village is flooded every year, but people have never left homes before because then the water level was knee-high.”

Evacuation isn’t much better than staying and facing the waters, Kandal province farmer Kry Sokda said, speaking from his temporary shack on higher ground in his native Prek Bang Kang village.

“It’s so hard to live on a small side street like this, because it’s very crowded,” he said.

As to government promises of action and aid, Kry Sokda said he didn’t believe a word of it.

“I have never been given any donations,” he said. “In Cambodia, everything is related to cronyism. Even if we die in front of them, they never help us.”

Although the floods are not as extreme as in years past, Kompong Cham resident Ly Chantha, 36, said they have caught people by surprise.

“This year, the water has come very fast. If the floods come, the first thing I’ll worry about is packing,” she said.

When she last evacuated in 1996, boat runners doubled their prices to as much as 60,000 riel ($15) per passenger, Ly Chantha said. She said she hoped the government would step in to prevent gouging.

“I’m a little worried,” she said.

Not everyone was alarmed by the high waters. Throughout Kompong Cham town, dozens of people—mostly young men and boys—had grabbed makeshift poles and were casting lines for fish.

“My house is a bit farther from the river, so I don’t worry too much about the floods,” said Hun Reng, standing just beyond the sandbags beneath the shade of a large banyan tree.

He paused, flipping his line and laughing with his friends at another fisherman who, after a great shout, had come up with a flailing minnow.

“I’m just bored,” he said, tossing his line back into the water.

(Reporting by Van Roeun, Yun Samean, Bill Myers, Kuch Naren and Matt Reed)


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