Sea of Floodwater Drowns Season’s Rice Crop

peamro district, Prey Veng province – What used to be hundreds of hectares of rice fields is now deep under water.

Here, 30 km southwest of Prey Veng town, villages stand out like half-submerged islands, with only their pagodas, a few houses and the tops of trees still visible.

Others have been swept away.

The tree-lined road running through the center of Baboeng village is hip-high in water. Ven­dors carry on business from flooded stalls, serving up noodles to customers who arrive by canoe and sit on submerged stools.

As more and more houses in the village have been destroyed, families have fled with their livestock to the pagoda, the only dry land left. They try to get enough to feed their families by fishing from the wat’s balconies.

But for more and more people in the area, there is no longer enough to eat.

In July, most farmers in this district lost their dry-season rice harvest to flooding. They used up their seed reserves to plant again, and then a month ago they were struck with the heaviest flooding in memory.

Eighty-two of Prey Veng’s 116 communes have been flooded, Provincial Governor Chuong Siv­vuth said Thursday.

In all, 29,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed, and 3,200 families have fled their homes. Since floods first hit the province in July, 52 people have drowned.

The damage is so severe the province will face famine once the waters recede, Chuong Sivvuth said.

Irrigation systems have been devastated, and most families have used up all their rice seed.  Provincial authorities have only 230 tons of seed, a little more than a quarter of what will be needed to plant a new crop, Chuong Sivvuth said.

“Some in the village have no rice,” said Chan Hoeung, 37, a  farmer in Baboeng who now fishes on the land he once cultivated. “They try to find fish to eat, but fish are scarce because the water is spread out.” Chan Hoeung manages to catch about half a kilo of fish a day to feed his family of six.

Chan Yan, 70, has lived in Baboeng since 1979. He and his 69-year-old wife depend on their daughter to give them food, but she, too, has lost two harvests and may not have enough to feed them for much longer.

Chan Yan said if the villagers run out of food, they will go and find jobs so they can get enough money to plant next season’s crops.

“All these people work hard,” he said. “We will not be beggars. We will be OK.”

No outsiders have come to the village since the flood started, locals say.

Senate President Chea Sim arrived in Prey Veng town by speedboat from Phnom Penh early Thursday to distribute rice to flood-afflicted villagers living on the outskirts of the provincial capital, but he did not make it to Peamro district.

The last time an NGO visited Baboeng was when UNICEF came to build a school three years ago.

Aid agencies say this latest flood has stretched them to the limit.

“It’s big, and it’s early in the season, so it’s going to be prolonged, which is problematic,” Kate Angus, acting assistant director of CARE Cambodia, said Tuesday.

“It’s everywhere at once, which puts more of a strain on our response capacity.”

This week the International Red Cross appealed for an extra $2.3 million in aid to help flood victims.

US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Thursday the embassy will give $302,000 to the Red Cross to help with the effort. Phnom Penh’s Naga Casino has also pledged $100,000 to various charities.

While relief workers struggle to keep up with demand,  farming families around the country have moved with their livestock and other valuables to dry land, often by the sides of highways

Last week Hun Sen urged drivers to slow down to avoid hitting families and their animals camped on roadsides. Recently a man and a pregnant woman were struck and killed by vehicles on Route 6, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

In Kandal province villagers have erected road blocks out of sandbags and palm branches to slow down traffic on Route 5, which is now crowded with flood refugees.

In Peamro district, much of what was once a causeway leading to the capital is under water. Villagers camp where they can on the crumbling edge of what’s left of the causeway.

Chea Sophea, 26, moved to the roadside from her home in Prek Kandieng village after their house and fields were inundated two weeks ago. For the moment she lives with her husband and two infant children in a shelter made of palm leaves

She, too, has lost two harvests, and she says the family doesn’t have any more seed to plant another one.

Her husband has tried to support them fishing, but now he’s decided to go to Phnom Penh to look for work as a laborer.

“If my husband does not go to Phnom Penh, my family will have nothing to eat,” Chea Sophea said.




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