Government Blames Child Flood Deaths on ‘Careless’ Mothers

The first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) on Monday blamed some of the deaths in this year’s floods on “careless” mothers.

“Maybe the mothers are careless, maybe they don’t pay much attention to their children, so they drown,” NCDM First Vice President Nhim Vanda told a workshop on improving the body’s often-lambasted ability to deal with floods and other natural disasters.

According to the government’s latest data, recent floodwaters, which are only just beginning to recede in some provinces, have affected 1.8 million Cambodians and killed 168 people.

Mr. Vanda offered no other possible causes of death for this year’s flood victims. But he did say a new tool dubbed a “risk atlas” would help the committee mitigate the fallout from future disasters.

The atlas, which is being created by the Bangkok-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) for the NCDM, will be a series of online maps showing in greater detail than ever what natural disaster risks different parts of the country face.

The tool is one piece of a $40 million World Bank-funded project to help the NCDM prepare for disasters and should be ready by July, though most of the mon­ey is going to repairing roads and bridges and other infrastructure damaged by 2009’s Typhoon Ketsana. Damage from the storm was estimated at $132 million.

Mr. Vanda claimed that this year’s floods had already inflicted $500 million in damages in Battam­bang and Banteay Meanchey provinces alone, though he did not give details of what the money would be used for.

“After we have the maps we can assure we provide proper intervention. After collecting [the risk information], we will have access to the proper data,” he said.

Kenneth Westgate, the ADPC’s team leader in Cambodia, said his group was also helping the NCDM write a handbook on building codes so that buildings can better withstand disasters, and to improve the committee’s early warning system and set up a comprehensive disaster management information center.

Having recently toured some of the northwest’s flood-affected areas, Mr. Westgate said the NCDM had to make its early warning system more site specific and make sure that the right information gets to the people.

“You may get information put out by the Ministry of Water Re­sources and Meteorology, but it…probably isn’t going to be very location specific, therefore not necessarily as useful to people on the grounds as it might be,” he said.

“And there may be disconnections between the various levels that make great problems for the people trying to understand the exact situation at any one time. And I’m not sure either how well the flow of information is up from local [government bodies] to national and national to local.”

A report the Asian Development Bank obtained earlier this month said the NCDM had no annual operating budget to begin with and that most staff were not even aware of their job descriptions.

Soon after Ketsana, the NCDM also admitted that hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency relief funds handed out to the provinces each year could not be tracked. Despite setting itself the goal of having a data system in place to follow that money by 2013, no moves have yet been made to implement it.

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