Report Finds Disaster Committee Severely Lacking

The government’s National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) fails to meet regularly and is void of an annual budget to cover its operations while most of its staff members are totally unaware of their job description, according to a report released in March and funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report, which reviewed the inner workings of the NCDM and was written by Jerome Casals, a specialist in disaster management, interviewed officials working for the body who said that during national disasters such as floods, the institution lacks both the funding and the logistics to carry out relief operations in remote areas.

“For the past several years, neither the NCDM General Secretariat as a whole nor any of its operational departments…have developed annual action or operating loans nor have any of them been provided with any annual operating budget,” the report says.

“Most departments do not even have regular access to office supplies and most staffs do not have, or are not aware, of their job descriptions.”

The NCDM—which is in charge of managing disaster response and risk reduction for floods, drought and epidemics across Cambodia—is supposed to meet twice a year. “[B]ut these meetings do not regularly occur,” the report states, adding that meetings generally only take place months after major disasters occur.

In 2012, the NCDM only held one meeting and that was to discuss floods that swept through the country in 2011, a full five months after the waters had subsided.

In 2011, roughly 250 died and more than 1 million Cambodians were affected by the worst flood to hit the country in a decade. At the time, the government came under fire from aid organizations that said it was far too slow to re­spond and had unevenly distributed donations.

Oxfam in Cambodia publicly called for more leadership from the government to coordinate disaster relief efforts by different ministries, donors and NGOs.

When responding to disasters, NCDM staff interviewed for the report raised concerns over a lack of financial and material re­sources to send out disaster damage teams and to carry out relief and response operations.

The current “perception as well as conclusions from all previous assessments very clearly indicate a perceived weakness and significant room for enhancing disaster coordination capacities,” the report states.

Although staff inside the NCDM blamed the lack of funding and resources for not being able to perform better, the report says that was not an excuse.

“Hence current resource constraints, significant as they are, should never be an acceptable reason of the absence of NCDM operational action plans and budgets,” according to the report.

“Overall, the review finds that there is no solid foundation for the practice of [Disaster Risk Man­agement] in the country as key legal and policy instruments… are still in the process of development and have yet to be adopted and approved.

“At the subnational or provincial level, policy formulation are non-existent as they depend entirely on the national level…for policy initiatives.”

Nhem Vanda, vice president of the NCDM and a CPP senior minister without a portfolio, said that the organization had no an­nual budget because it did not need financial resources and that its mandate was to act as a coordinator and not a direct aid agency. Mr. Vanda also said that the NCDM would always work alongside the Cambodian Red Cross, which is chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, when tackling disasters.

“The NCDM doesn’t have money and the NCDM does not receive aid…. NCDM is part of the government and works as coordinator,” Mr. Vanda said.

“The ADB report is not true. If the ADB is unhappy with the NCDM, then please ADB, don’t work with the NCDM,” he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Council of Ministers, said Monday that he wasn’t sure how the NCDM was organized.

“I have no idea why there is no budget. But they used to have one for disaster management I think, but it dropped and they might have not assigned a new one,” Mr. Siphan said, adding that the Cambodian Red Cross was charged with taking care of flood victims.

“The Cambodian Red Cross takes care of disasters mostly, and after that the NCDM maybe. For flooding, the Red Cross has a good program designed to help the people, I don’t know about the NCDM, they have their own policy,” Mr. Siphan said.

Men Neary Sopheak, deputy director of the Cambodian Red Cross, declined to comment on how the Red Cross works with the NCDM, but said that her organization was responsible for most of the country’s relief work.

“The NCDM, they coordinate. But we have our own people in our branches all over the country,” she said, adding that 150 staff worked for the Red Cross in Phnom Penh, while about 150 more were stationed in the provinces.

Flooding has again returned to Cambodia during this year’s rainy season and thousands of families have been evacuated to higher ground.

Aid agencies on Monday said that while the flooding is nowhere near the levels of 2011, the response efforts do seem to be better than in the past. Still, hundreds of people affected by flooding on the outskirts of Phnom Penh complained Monday that they are yet to receive any support from the government.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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