By Ben Sokhean and Simon Henderson - September 30, 2013
Almost 8,000 families have now been evacuated to higher ground since severe flooding across the country began two weeks ago and two more children were confirmed to have drowned over the weekend bringing the nationwide death toll to at least 28, officials said.
In Phnom Penh, where floodwaters on Sunday were inching closer to emergency level, 161 families have been evacuated from Meanchey district since Friday with thousands still grappling with inundated homes and poor sanitation.
Kao Sareth, 65, prepares food in his flooded home in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Sunday. More than 160 families in Meanchey district have been evacuated from their homes since flooding hit Friday. (Siv Channa)
Keo Vy, deputy director of information at the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that the two young victims died on Saturday in Kompong Cham province, where thousands of families have been evacuated to higher ground.
“Two children died by drowning on Saturday in Kompong Cham. A 6-year-old boy drowned in Batheay district’s Sambour commune, and a 2-year-old girl also died by drowning in Kroch Chhmar district, Trea commune,” he said.
“At least 28 people have died due to flooding in the past two weeks including 16 children, which brings the total killed in floods to 41 so far this year,” Mr. Vy said.
Across the country, a total of 7,897 families have been evacuated, 62,036 houses have been flooded, and 73,616 families nationwide have been affected by the floodwaters, he said.
The Mekong on Sunday rose 14 centimeters at the Tonle Bassac-Chaktomuk water station on Phnom Penh’s riverside to reach 10.2 meters, just below the 10.5-meter emergency level.
Mr. Vy said authorities were concerned that the water levels would rise further in the coming days.
“We are worried about Phnom Penh now because on Saturday the water level reached 10.2 meters and may soon reach the emergency level,” he said.
Along the banks of the Tonle Bassac in Chbar Ampov II commune, families waded through muddy meter-high water that has inundated their homes since the river broke its banks last week. Some villagers have erected makeshift wooden walkways and children were using rubber dinghies made from tire tubing to travel through the increasingly fetid floodwaters.
Though many have already been moved to a nearby safety area, hundreds more continue to cook, eat and sleep in corrugated huts waist-deep in water, leading to dangerous conditions for many young children in the area.
“The water is up to my stomach in my house and nobody has come to help me,” said Chea Narin, a 50-year-old community leader in the commune.
“Some people have no working toilets so they are using the water, and it has brought a really bad smell and my children have had diarrhea. It is hard to keep the children in the house all the time, so they play in the water but we are afraid they will drown like in other provinces,” he said.
Mr. Narin works at a timber yard across what used to be the road in front of his house, but the warehouse floor is under water and the timber is soaked through bringing work to a standstill.
“We need the Red Cross, NGOs or the authorities to help us because we cannot work so have no money to buy food or clean water—all the families here are affected,” he said.
Further upstream in Chraing Bak village, 32-year-old Yoeng Yeung, an ethnic Vietnamese construction worker, said that his house has been completely flooded for about a week and he was worried about his two children.
“Under my house the floodwater is 1.5 meters deep so it is really difficult—inside the house the floor is submerged so I can’t cook or use the toilet,” he said.
He gestured to his two young children who stood behind him on the small makeshift bridge and said that he was frightened that they will drown because they cannot swim.
“Neither the Cambodian Red Cross nor any NGOs have come to help us yet,” he said, adding that despite the floods he must still go to work, while his wife stays home to care for the children.
Yen Vuth, Chbar Ampov II commune chief, said that more than 60 families have been evacuated to a safety area in Doeum Sleng I village over the weekend with more than 1,000 families along the river were currently affected by the floods.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that more than 160 families had already been evacuated to higher ground in the capital’s Meanchey and Russei Keo districts.
“Municipal authorities have received a directive from the government regarding flooding in the city and we are now preparing to provide the affected families in the areas with assistance.”
Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Kandal, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces have experienced the worst of the flooding over the past two weeks, but heavy rainfall from tropical storm Wutip, which made landfall in Laos from the South China Sea on Friday, has extended the reach of the flooding, with Phnom Penh and also Prey Veng province receiving new warnings.
Chann Tha, Prey Veng province’s director of administration, said that emergency level had been declared Sunday when floodwaters reached 7.5 meters.
“Seven districts in Prey Veng province have been affected now by flooding and we evacuated 295 families to higher ground on Saturday and Sunday, while 10,414 houses have been swamped by water,” he said.
Health officials across the country have expressed concern that the flooding could cause a health crisis as a shortage of clean water for drinking and washing is leading to outbreaks of diarrhea.
Cambodian Red Cross spokeswoman Men Neary Sopheak said Sunday that relief efforts nationwide were already underway, though she said she did not know when people living in flooded areas in Phnom Penh would receive assistance.
According to Ms. Sopheak, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath on Saturday donated $10,000 to the Red Cross to help with the ongoing relief effort.
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