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World Food Day: Typhoon Ketsana destroys Cambodia’s rice harvest

This entry was posted on Oxfam’s News Blog on October 16th, 2009 at 11:22 am

Typhoon Ketsana made this year’s annual flood in Cambodia so much more intense that hectares of rice have been destroyed. Oxfam’s Dow Punpiputt reports.

A Buddhist monk takes a boat for daily routine

This is my first trip to Cambodia and I’m heading with our Media-Communications team to Kampong Thom province, one of the most affected areas from Typhoon Ketsana. Annual flooding is common in this low-lying floodplain of the Tonle Sap lake. But this year, Typhoon Ketsana made the situation much worse. An estimated 100,000 people have been affected by the annual flood and Typhoon Ketsana in Cambodia.

It takes our team about 3 and a half hours by car from Phnom Penh to Kampong Thom. We stop at our field office on the way to meet some staff and get a brief on the situation and the aid distribution. We borrow some boots and off we go.

On the way we stop to talk to a small community living by the road in temporary makeshift shelters. They move here every year during flood season. Normally they stay for a month, but this year, it has been three months and they cannot return yet.

Our car reached the end of the road just about 50 metres beyond the last small bridge. What I saw in front of me was endless sight of lake or reservoir with some trees in it. Some people are fishing, some are playing. Life goes on.


From this point we have to take a boat to the village. Only after we take off I realise that we are cruising ‘over’ rice paddies. It is so sad to know that the harvest season is only less than a month from now and that below the vast surface of water, tons of rice have been lost to the floods. Hectares of rice crops are submerged under water. How many families will go hungry this year?

After about 10 minutes on the boat, we stop at one community who have relocated to a higher ground. Their homes now look like boathouses that float on the water. But actually they are two-storey traditional houses that were built on stilts. That is how deep the flood is. They tell us that in the worst affected areas, the water is as deep as three metres.

We talk to Thach You, 25, a mother of five young children. The youngest one was born just two weeks before Ketsana hit. The roof of her house was blown off and they had to stay wet like that all night long. They later moved from a small house that now ‘floats’ a few inches above the water to build a temporary shelter next to her grandparent’s house on higher ground.


Those who live in tropical countries will know that stagnant water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Our staff tell us that cases of malaria, rabies and diarrhoea are increasing. And our assessment teams tell us that the problems are getting worse as people do not have enough clean water to drink and no proper toilets. Two of Thach You’s children fell ill after months of flood but luckily it was not serious.

Despite difficulties to access many affected regions, Oxfam has reached about 75% of the intended 5,000 families in the three hardest-hit provinces: Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Kratie with our relief items. Emergency supplies include plastic sheets, water filters, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, sarongs, kettles, water buckets and soap. Our public health promoters also have been giving training on how to use the water filters and other ways of keeping hygienic. But after three months of flooding, a new urgency has emerged – food security.

Every family now depends on food from the Cambodian Red Cross and the government. After three months of living with floods, everyone’s rice stock is running so low that people with many mouths to feed like Thach You have had to borrow rice from their neighbours.

Thach You and her family don’t own land. In better days, her husband goes fishing to feed the family but now that his foot has been injured in an accident, he has had to stop. For the last two weeks their meals have been reduced from three meals to just one a day. Even as we talk to Thach You, her children are eating cassava that she has borrowed from others – and this is all they have to eat today.

Today is World Food Day. In Cambodia, 40,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed and 15,000 households are in need of immediate food assistance.

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