Two More Die in Flooding, Aid Response Slow in Phnom Penh

Two more people died in Kompong Cham province on Monday as a result of flooding that has claimed at least 30 victims since heavy rains spawned by tropical storms over the past two weeks caused the Mekong to break its banks and inundate thousands of communities across 10 provinces, officials said.

Although the flooding in some areas showed some signs of receding Monday, Typhoon Wutip—the strongest tropical storm forecast in the region for seven years, according to reports—made landfall in Vietnam late last night, increasing fears that a fresh surge in the flood levels could thwart Cambodian re­lief efforts.

Kompong Cham province continued to suffer the worst effects of the recent storms, according to Keo Vy, cabinet chief at the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM).

“Two more people have died in Kompong Cham province, with 10 children among the 18 killed,” he said.

“At least 30 people have now drowned in the past two weeks, bringing the total killed in floods to 43 so far this year, while 9,509 families have been evacuated, 67,551 houses have been flooded and 81,357 families have been affected.”

Meanwhile, more than 170 families in Phnom Penh’s Mean­chey district were still awaiting assistance Monday since the banks of the Tonle Bassac broke in Chbar Ampov II commune late last week, forcing them to abandon their homes.

At the side of the riverbank in Doeum Sleng village on Monday, more than 50 people were crammed into a one-roomed, stilted wooden shack with hardly an centimeter of floor space left unclaimed. A cauldron nearby steamed over a fire, cooking rice scraped together by villagers to feed the 12 families inside.

“How many people do you think can live in this house, so many men, women and children living so close together?” said a 32-year-old man who would only give his name as Lucky.

“We have been here four days now and there has been no Red Cross and no NGOs. The [district] governor came on Saturday, but he left after counting how many people there were,” he said.

Kim Rattana, executive director of Caritas Cambodia, said that his organization had not re­ceived any information on Meanchey district, though they were continuing with relief efforts in the country’s most affected provinces.

“If there are areas [in Meanchey district] in need of assistance we need to get this information from the municipal or district authorities,” he said.

Caritas is currently providing relief services to 1,150 families in Kompong Cham, 540 families in Kratie and 1,500 families in Ratanakkiri among other prov­inces, mostly in evacuation zones dubbed “safety areas,” which are specially demarcated areas prepared by the authorities, NCDM and NGOs.

“We are delivering tents, food parcels, water tanks with 1,000 liters of clean water, portable latrines and sanitation and hy­giene kits, which includes washing salts, hygiene pads for wom­en, toothpaste and toothbrushes,” he said.

About 100 meters up­hill from the families packed inside the shack in Doeum Sleng village, more than 30 families gathered in the yard of the small pagoda said they did not feel the zone deserved to be called a “safety area” and that they had moved onto the grounds of their own accord.

“I didn’t have an option, my house collapsed on one side into the river and I was afraid my 5-year-old child would drown,” said 32-year-old Mao Samneang.

“Others came on Friday when the water inside their houses came up to their necks, but no­body has been to help—they only came to count and take our names so we will go when the water gets lower,” she said, adding that there was no toilet or clean water to use.

Caroline McCausland, country director of Action Aid—which is operating in the worst affected provinces—said that normally, municipal authorities, NCDM and the Cambodian Red Cross would coordinate a response in Phnom Penh.

“As far as we were aware, the authorities were planning on going out [to Meanchey district], but if they haven’t been out yet that’s a decision taken by the district and municipality,” she said.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that he did not know what the plan was for helping residents in Meanchey district but said the municipal government was monitoring the situation.

“The governor of Phnom Penh will go to check the situation [today],” he said.

Meanchey district governor Kuoch Chamreoun said that help had only reached some areas.

Kruoch Samoeun, executive director of the Phnom Penh branch of the Cambodian Red Cross, said that the municipal department was in the planning stage and had instructed all district branches to record the number of families affected by the floods.

“Once we have recorded the number of families, we will help them,” he said.

Andrew Moore, country director for Save the Children—which is targeting families in remote areas in the east of the country—said that outside Phnom Penh, the coordinated response to this year’s flooding has been reasonably good.

“The level of response needed in 2011 is not really required this time around and the floodwaters are receding. The question now, of course, is whether any more tropical storms will make the situation worse,” he said.

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