World Food Program weighs emergency operation
Heavy flooding will continue through much of the country and possibly increase in coming days, officials warned yesterday, raising concern among aid workers that tens of thousands of affected families will have to wait longer for emergency help. It is also increasingly likely that up to 10 percent of Cambodia’s rice harvest will be lost.
The severity of the situation has prompted the UN’s World Food Program to consider launching an emergency operation, the organization said yesterday, adding that it might support NGOs in their relief efforts and also offer assistance to the government.
However, the National Disaster Management Committee, which has been criticized for doing little to coordinate aid operations, said in response that the government will “not seek support from outside.”
Water levels in the Mekong River, Tonle Sap lake and Bassac River will continue to rise slightly in coming days, according to the Ministry of Water Resources, before dropping slowly in upstream provinces. As a result, floodwaters in the 16 affected provinces will remain high or even rise.
“The water has been rising up [in] almost all provinces,” said Men Neary Sopheak, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian Red Cross, adding that rainfall and rising waters were hampering relief efforts.
“In some provinces we cannot transport [aid],” she said. “Normally when it rains we can’t use the boats.”
About 213,000 families have been affected by flooding, the disaster committee has said, while 167 people have drowned.
The Red Cross said it has supplied 25,000 families, while a Save the Children official estimated that aid NGOs have helped another 10,000 families.
The World Food Program has met with aid groups and engaged the government’s disaster committee in recent days to see if it could help meet the massive demand for aid from rural communities.
“We’re taking the situation very seriously,” said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, WFP’s country representative, adding that the organization was collecting information in preparation for a possible emergency operation.
Francis Perez, spokesman for aid group Oxfam, said WFP’s support would be a boost for relief operations. “I would welcome any action by the WFP. I think the UN is in a very good position to help NGOs and the government,” he said, adding that Oxfam was aiming to help a total of 2,500 affected families.
Keo Vy, deputy director of the disaster committee’s information department, said the committee’s First Vice President Nhim Vanda had met with WFP.
“At this time, we don’t seek aid from outside,” he said. “We have enough ability to help the people.”
Aid groups have criticized the disaster committee’s as it has failed to provide national coordination and information to NGOs on how many families and which communities need aid.
About 294,000 hectares of paddy-or about 11 percent of Cambodia’s annual rice crop-have now been flooded for about two weeks and almost a third of the crop is already destroyed, according to the committee.
Rice stalks become damaged if they stay submerged longer than ten days and the prospect of prolonged flooding raises serious concerns that most of this inundated paddy might die within the next week or so.
“One thing is for sure, if hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice die, it will have an impact on food availability and food prices in the country,” said Mr de Margerie, from WFP. “And that can have quite a big impact on poor households, this is a concern.”
Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture director Yang Saing Koma said flood damage would not significantly affect national rice production, but a subsequent rice price increase was inevitable.
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