Cambodia: Hundreds of thousands affected by floods

10 October 2013, Siem Riep, Cambodia: A man is rescued after a bridge across a swollen river in north-western Cambodia collapsed. Flooding across the country has displaced almost 145,000 people and affected 1.7 million. Credit: UNICEF
Floods across Cambodia have claimed 188 lives, displaced almost 145,000 people and affected more than 1.7 million. Communities urgently need clean water, basic sanitation and emergency shelter.

Water is still dripping from Heng Chey’s* clothes as he sits shaking by Tonle Sap Lake in north-west Cambodia. He was crossing a bridge when it was swept away by a rush of floodwater.

“I saw that the bridge was already flooded, but I thought I could still make it,” he said. “If the people around me did not help to pull me out, the force of the water would have swept me away.”

Since September, heavy rainfall has triggered severe flooding in north-west and south-east Cambodia, causing extensive damage across 20 of the country’s 24 provinces. In some provinces, areas that are normally considered safe were inundated. According to the Government, 188 people have been killed and almost 145,000 have been evacuated. Hundreds of families are still waiting for assistance, as many areas remain waterlogged.

“Information from initial assessments that we undertook with national authorities indicate that in some provinces, the floods are more extensive than in 2011,” said Clare Van der Vaeren, the UN Resident Coordinator for Cambodia.

“I am particularly concerned about the situation in Battambang and Banteay Meancheay provinces (in western Cambodia), where in some cases water levels have reached the roofs of houses.”

Water, sanitation and shelter are the most pressing needs

Flooding is a perennial problem in Cambodia. However, this year additional flash floods have wreaked havoc. Typhoon Nari brought heavy rains to northern Cambodia and southern Thailand in mid-October, causing rivers and dams in the north to overflow.

An estimated 377,000 families need water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) support and shelter assistance.

Due to overcrowded and unsanitary evacuation centres, there are now fears of outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea. Cambodia’s Humanitarian Response Forum (HRF) – a coordination platform that brings together authorities and national and international humanitarian organizations – has warned that children are susceptible.

“Young children and other vulnerable persons with compromised immunity or malnutrition are [at greatest risk] from contaminated water sources and increased pathogens within the environment,” said the forum in a recent report.

“We are supporting the Government-led national response by facilitating joint assessments and providing assistance on the ground,” wrote the HRF co-chairs, Caroline McCausland of the NGO Action Aid and Gian Pietro Bordignon of the World Food Programme, in a recent message.

“Distributions of food supplies and non-food items have taken place in the majority of affected provinces, particularly through the Cambodian Red Cross and local authorities, as well as local and international non-governmental organizations.”

OCHA provides emergency funding

Floodwaters are now receding across much of the country. However, this is taking longer than expected in some areas. In Kampong Cham, 60 families must wait another two or three weeks before they can return home and start rebuilding their lives.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working with these families. Brett Dickson, an IOM Project Coordinator, said: “When people are moved to safe areas they also need temporary shelters with adequate space for all their needs, including separate shelter for their affected livestock.”

To support such efforts, OCHA released an Emergency Cash Grant of US$50,000 to fund WASH and shelter operations. The grant will help IOM to provide basic shelter materials for the families of Kampong Cham and elsewhere. It will also boost the efforts of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to distribute water filters and soap to families living in the crowded evacuation centres.

The grant complements Government-led efforts that have focused on distributing food and relief supplies, as well as on early plans to rehabilitate water-logged infrastructure and re-establish flooded crops.

These recovery efforts are expected to take several months. However, it may take much longer for Heng and many other affected families to overcome their trauma.

*Name changed

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