UN Distributes Rice in Areas Hit by Drought

The UN World Food Program an­­nounced Tuesday that it has begun an emergency distribution of 1,500 tons of rice to 150,000 hungry Cambodians and that 500,000 are short of food due to the ongoing drought in half of the country’s 24 provinces.

WFP Country Director Rama­raj Saravanamuttu said Tuesday that Kompong Speu and Kom­pong Cham provinces are the hardest- hit areas.

Emergency rice distribution be­gan April 6. The 10 provinces re­ceiving aid are Battambang, Kom­pong Cham, Kompong Chhn­ang, Kompong Speu, Kam­pot, Kom­pong Thom, Kandal, Kratie, Prey Veng and Pursat.

“I don’t think you would say that the people are near starvation” Sa­ra­vanamuttu said. “What you see is that they are selling off their as­sets and getting into a poverty trap. They are falling backwards.”

“We distributed rice in Dec­em­ber, but as it became apparent that the situation continues to worsen, we are distributing again,” he added.

The WFP distributed 1,000 tons of rice to 50,000 people last year. This year’s recipients will be selected based on their poverty level and survey data about their need for food.

Saravanamuttu said more monitors would be involved in checking the distribution of the rice aid to avoid any possible repeat of last year’s scandal when it was discovered that thousands of tons of donated rice had been stolen in a sophisticated fraud operation that involved WFP staff and government officials.

WFP demanded that the government repay the amount of rice stolen.

“There isn’t an automatic link to the past, this is a different activity,” Saravanamuttu said.

“We will be monitoring the distribution as will our partners. In any such activity you have to make sure that the food is getting to the right people,” he said.

The aid organizations CARE, World Vision, Church World Ser­vice, Concern and Partners for Development will conduct the aid distribution.

Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said Tuesday that the government believes crop diversification is the best solution for food crises such as the one the country now faces. Rather than grow only rice, farmers should plant cash crops, like sugar cane, from which they can earn a profit, he said.

“Due to the drought and climate change for one year to another, our farmers must be flexible in farming,” he added. “If we only resort to one crop, we would not make enough food.”

Chan Sarun said that rice with a shorter growing season, although deemed less delicious by some Cambodians, needs to be introduced into drought areas where every year villagers run short of food.



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