Thousands of kilograms of rice donated by the Cambodian Red Cross to impoverished families in Battambang province, including residents of HIV-hit Roka commune, had to be replaced Monday after villagers complained it was rotten, officials said.
On February 13, Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, visited Roka commune in Sangke district to distribute rice, noodles, mosquito nets and about $25 each to more than 5,000 local villagers and residents of neighboring districts.
But when villagers got home and opened their sacks of rice, they were hit by the foul stench of spoiled, discolored grains that were not fit for human consumption.
On Monday, provincial authorities returned to the commune with a fresh shipment, said provincial governor Chan Sophal. “When we first distributed the rice, it sparked anger among them because the charity that donated it [the Red Cross] had stored it in a humid warehouse for too long,” he said.
In Roka commune on Monday, Sam Lorn—who at 81 years old is one of many elderly victims of the mysterious HIV outbreak that has infected nearly 240 residents—said villagers had also grown impatient at having to wait three weeks for a new delivery.
“When we [first] opened [the bags], the rice was smelly and red and decomposing,” he said of the initial donation, adding that he still managed to eat some of it.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith took to his Facebook page Monday upon hearing about the blunder.
“I have seen reports in my network that the rice previously donated in Battambang by the leader of the Cambodian Red Cross is inedible and smells bad, and the people living in Thma Koul have had [to have rice] redonated.”
Lorn Sary, a 20-year-old Roka resident with HIV, said he was confused by how rice could have been handed out when it had clearly gone bad.
“It smelled bad as soon as we opened it, and even when we cooked it, it still smelled like bad chemicals, so we just gave it to the pigs to eat,” she said.