Red Cross Criticized Over Slow Response to Floods

With thousands of families evacuated from their homes due to flooding, the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC), the largest and best-funded humanitarian organization in the country, has yet to provide flood aid to many struggling communities, local officials said Monday.

Families living in some of the worst hit areas said they are still waiting for the CRC to make an appearance while foreign aid groups such as Caritas and Ox­fam have delivered supplies of water and rice to the displaced.

A young girl jumps in the air in a badly flooded area of Battambang City on Sunday. Many provinces have been hit by flooding in the past two weeks. (Shathel Fahs)
A young girl jumps in the air in a badly flooded area of Battambang City on Sunday. Many provinces have been hit by flooding in the past two weeks. (Shathel Fahs)

Kong Yen, chief of the CRC branch in Kompong Cham prov­ince, where thousands have been evacuated to higher ground, said he had not yet assisted any flood victims in the area due to the recent Pchum Ben religious festival.

“We are not working during Pchum Ben because we are on holiday,” he said, adding that he had submitted a letter to the CRC’s headquarters in Phnom Penh asking for assistance more than a week ago.

“We submitted a letter to the CRC [headquarters] to ask for donations to help the flood victims, but the organization has not yet responded to our request.”

Mr. Yen added that his office had prepared 40 tons of rice, but has not yet distributed it to flood victims as he was not sure where to take the donations.

The CRC, which has branches in every province in the country and is supported by millions of dollars in donations annually, is presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany.

Men Neary Sophea, deputy director of the CRC, refuted Mr. Yen’s claims, saying that her organization had not received any request for assistance from the CRC branch in Kompong Cham.

According to Ms. Neary Sophea, the CRC has helped evacuate 13,000 families nationwide and had directly provided supplies to 8,902 families.

“We helped them with food, especially rice and to some we gave shelter,” she said.

However, in Kandal province, another badly affected area, Khsach Kandal district governor Kong Sophan also said that the CRC had not provided any help to flood victims.

“We have not received donations from any organization, and even the CRC did not yet provide donations to the flood victims…. I do not know why,” he said.

“We also gave medicine to some children to stop diarrhea,” he added.

In Kandal’s Sa’ang district, governor Khim Chankiri said that although he had requested help directly from the CRC for the district’s 540 evacuated families more than two weeks ago, he had yet to see any donations.

“We already sent a report with the number of flood victims to the CRC since the area flooded two weeks ago, but we did not receive any donations,” Mr. Chankiri said.

In Battambang province, where floodwaters engulfed large parts of Battambang’s city center on Sunday, 280 families from four communes had to be evacuated to higher areas, Bavel district governor Tim Dareth said. But the district is still waiting for assistance.

“My district gave around 2 kg to 5 kg of rice to each family; it’s an emergency donation for the poorest families and we will ask for Red Cross donations [today],” he said, explaining that the donations were not provided from the CRC, but the local authority.

Ms. Neary Sophea said the CRC has been active in other parts of the country, where it has provided flood victims with supplies such as noodles and fish.

“We have responded to flood victims in Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Ratanakkiri, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Kratie, Kandal and Kompong Cham.”

She said that if communities had not received help, they should call the CRC to ask for help.

“We cannot be everywhere and we do not have magic eyes to see where people need help,” she said, adding that the CRC does not coordinate with the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) at such times.

“I do not work with them [NCDM], I don’t know what they do. We do not need the NCDM to tell us, we have our own line of management and people can come to us directly. Every morning and evening we collect the information from our branches,” she said.

Still, Sar Bora, Prek Touch village chief in Kompong Cham’s Tbong Khmum district, said that since about 1,260 people were moved to higher ground about two weeks ago, nobody had received help from the CRC.

“I have not seen the Cambodian Red Cross sending any donations to the flood victims I am responsible for, and I do not know the reason why they don’t send donations,” Mr. Bora said, adding that the rice and sanitation supplies which Catholic organization Caritas had handed out last week were running out.

“I would like to appeal to the provincial Red Cross and the CRC to provide food to the flood victims because they are now facing food shortages and the donations from Caritas are not going to last,” he said.

Ms. Neary Sophea, the CRC’s deputy director, declined to say how much money had been allocated to respond to the current flood relief effort, though she said the CRC’s annual budget was between $3 to $5 million. In May, the CRC raised $14 million from donations in a single day.

Caritas Cambodia, which started to distribute donations to thousands of affected families last week, said that they had not interacted with the CRC on the organization’s distribution of emergency kits to some 3,000 families.

“I have not seen the Red Cross, but it’s a holiday now, so they are not working,” said Sok Sakhon, who is in charge of Caritas’ disaster risk reduction program.

Asked to comment on the report that the CRC branch in Kompong Cham office had not been at work over the Pchum Ben festival, Ms. Neary Sophea said: “It depends on the branch. It is up to them if they want to work or not, maybe they were just not working today.”

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