Cambodia Weathers Assault by Cold, Storms

While most Cambodians were shivering on Monday, Chen Soy was working up a sweat.

As customers flocked to her second-hand clothes shop on Street 53 near Psar Thmei, Chen Soy bustled around piles of clothing on the sidewalk, never stopping to count the wad of riel ac­cumulating in her hands.

“The business has been good, especially yesterday and today,” Chen Soy said. “Hundreds of people have come to buy long-sleeved shirts since early this morning. I didn’t even have time to eat lunch.”

The 48-year-old shop owner was among the few people who welcomed the rainy, cold weather that has assaulted Cambodia since Friday.

Temperatures plunged to 16.4 degrees Celsius in the highlands, the lowest temperature in Cam­bodia since 1993, said Sin Va­na­rith, acting director of the meteorology department at the Min­is­try of Water Resources and Me­teorology.

In Phnom Penh, temperatures dropped to 18.7 degrees Mon­day, she said.

Meteorologists attributed the unusual cold snap to two ty­phoons that swept through Southeast Asia and to the worldwide weather phenomenon known as La Nina.

The first storm, called Fair, struck full force in Sihanoukville on Friday and Saturday, while the second storm, dubbed Faith, hit the same coastal area early Sunday. The combination of the high winds and heavy rains de­stroyed 25 houses and seriously injured one villager, provincial police said.

The storms will disappear by this morning, she said, but cooler-than-normal weather will continue into next year, Sin Vanarith predicted.

Lim Kean Huor, minister of meteorology, said damage to the Sihanoukville area would have been worse if officials had not warned villagers and fishermen to stay away from the Gulf of Thailand. The government broadcast the warnings on TV and radio two days be­fore the first storm.

In the capital, meanwhile, the cold streak has left the poorest of the poor even more miserable than usual.

Thousands of families living on riverbanks, roadsides and near railroads have been subjected to cold winds and rain battering their flimsy shacks.

“Rain was dripping from the roof and strong winds blew into the house. We had to cover ourselves with a mosquito net be­cause we didn’t have enough blankets,” said Srey Sok, who lives in the Tonle Bassac squatter community.

She said two of her four children have caught colds and her own body ached from the low temperatures. The 52-year-old charcoal seller said she was too miserable to go out and sell her goods.

Experts say the cold weather is harming agriculture, too.

“By this time of the year, normally 80 percent of rice crops should be harvested,” said Harry Nesbitt, Cambodia project manager of the International Rice Research Institute. “But this year, only 20 to 30 percent has been harvested. And many [grains] have been falling into the water in the rice fields because of strong winds and heavy rain. The quality of crops will also drop.”

Kay Vannara, senior extension worker for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said other crops would be also damaged, including vegetables grown near the Mekong and Bassac rivers.

But Minister of Agriculture Chhea Song said he believes the damage to crops will be limited to a few areas and said Monday that the unusual weather is not a threat to food supplies.

(Addi­tional reporting by Saing Soen­thrith)

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