Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday said ongoing flooding in 15 provinces has been more destructive than the Mekong floods of 2000, and warned that some of the 170,000 affected families might be pushed into poverty.
The death toll rose to at least 151 during the weekend, while aid groups said they were struggling to cope with the enormous demand for help, with tens of thousands of people still waiting for emergency supplies and the total extent of the need still unclear.
In a special television and radio broadcast Saturday, Mr Hun Sen stressed the seriousness of the flooding along the Mekong River and around the Tonle Sap lake, which has plagued some provinces for several weeks now.
“The situation is worse than in 2000,” he said. “The difference between now and 2000 is that the flooding is not only along the Mekong, but also in Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and Kompong Thom [provinces].”
Massive Mekong floods in 2000 destroyed more than one-fifth of Cambodia’s harvest.
The National Committee for Disaster Management released preliminary estimates Friday that said more than 170,000 families’ homes were flooded, and floodwaters had inundated 270,000 hectares of rice —which is about 10 percent of Cambodia’s total planted area.
“People are suffering due to the loss of agricultural product,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Possibly, some of the 170,000 families who had already rose above the poverty line could fall back below the poverty line.”
“The state and the people all have problems and this can affect economic improvement,” he said, adding that provincial authorities should “keep helping people to reach safe places and provide food, shelter and medicine.”
Mr Hun Sen said that 148 people had died during the floods, 52 of whom were children, raising the death toll up from NCDM’s earlier estimate of 141.
He also raised the issue of the floods’ disturbance of voter registration for the 2012 commune elections, which was scheduled to last from Sept 1 to Oct 15.
“I appeal to people in the flooded and not flooded areas—please go register to vote,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that he would recommend that the National Election Committee extend the voter registration period to help voters in flooded areas.
Kompong Thom governor Chhun Chhorn, whose province is among the worst hit, said that three more people had died in flooding since Mr Hun Sen’s speech on Saturday, adding that a total of 27 people had now drowned in the province. “Now the water is slowly going down,” he said.
Keo Vy, deputy director of the disaster committee’s information department, said he could not give an estimate of how many families nationwide were still in need of aid, as officials were still collecting figures.
Although floods are slowly receding and moving south—where Prey Veng, Takeo and Svay Rieng are still experiencing peak flood levels—the aid effort has yet to catch up with demand from affected families, emergency aid groups said.
Both evacuated families and many of those stuck in flooded homes are in need of help, Cambodian Red Cross Deputy Secretary-General Men Neary Sopheak said, adding that the organization was assessing how many families were still waiting for support.
“So far, we helped more than 15,000 families,” Ms Neary Sopheak said, adding that provincial authorities and the Cambodian Red Cross had cooperated to deliver emergency aid, such as rice, canned fish, noodles, clothing and shelter.
The government has set aside $55 million and 1,700 metric tons of rice for provincial authorities to provide immediate help to affected families.
Ms Neary Sopheak said that another 3,000 to 4,000 families would receive supplies in Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear and Kompong Chhnang provinces in the coming days, adding, however, that further assessments might reveal that tens of thousands more families would need aid.
Last week, the Cambodian Red Cross estimated that 37,300 families in five provinces alone were in need of help, 18,000 of which are located in Kompong Thom province, where all eight districts were flooded.
Francis Perez, country head of the aid agency Oxfam, said most villagers in Kompong Thom had yet to receive aid.
“My estimate would be that out of the approximately 18,000 families…less than half of that are actually receiving aid,” Mr Perez said. “So we need to step up aid in Kompong Thom,” he said, adding that Oxfam would support 1,000 households there.
Khim Phearum, Save the Children’s disaster management coordinator, said that in Kompong Cham province the floods had receded considerably in some parts.
He said that 90 percent of the 2,664 displaced families in Kompong Siem and Koh Sotin districts had now returned home, which is almost half of the 6,000 evacuated families in the province.
He added, however, “The affected families need more supplies.”
(Additional reporting by Alice Foster and Khuon Narim)