A group of almost 60 ethnic Kreung families in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district temporarily left their village last week following the deaths of two women of severe diarrhea, local officials said Sunday, adding that traditional beliefs that local spirits needed to be appeased after the deaths prompted the families to abandon their village.
La’ak commune chief Ya Pan said families started leaving Kam village on Wednesday and that each family spent five days at farm houses in the forest before returning to the village.
“It’s their traditional belief, just like you believe that whenever you go into a pagoda you have to remove your hat,” he said.
Chuop Savat, who works for the human-rights group Adhoc, said he had visited the village in recent days and said that villagers thought a mountain spirit was exacting revenge for the logging on a nearby mountain.
“They have left with almost the whole village. They said the mountain spirit is very furious and cruel,” he said, adding people had been praying for forgiveness.
A 17-year-old girl died last Monday, and a 52-year-old woman died on Wednesday after attending the teenager’s funeral and falling sick.
Health officials said Friday that many villagers fell ill with severe diarrhea after drinking from a communal jar of rice wine at the funeral.
The total number deaths from diarrhea in Ratanakkiri so far this year stands at 14, with almost 500 people also suffering from the symptom. Although severe diarrhea is not uncommon at this time of year in the province, the number of cases has peaked this year, officials have said.
Hoy Vannara, deputy director of the provincial health department, said Sunday officials struggled to educate ethnic minority villagers on the need for hygiene in order to prevent diarrhea outbreaks, adding officials had urged villagers to bury corpses immediately.
“We told them to clean their hands before eating a meal and boil water before they drank it; they believe it for a short moment then they return to their original ways of living,” he said.