Stories of our emergency response to floods in Southeast Asia 2009

First came the floods, then the typhoon

 

Rice fields inundated by floodwaters in Toul Char village. Photo: Soleak Seang/Oxfam America
Rice fields inundated by floodwaters in Toul Char village.

Flooding is not new for Thach You, a 25-year-old mother of five. Thach’s house standing on stilts is flooded for a week almost every year. But this year, floodwaters have reached higher and have lasted for three months. Around her house and beyond, a vast body of water is covering over 80 percent of the rice fields vital to the local livelihoods in her village.

 

Like most of the 47 families in Toul Char, a village 230 km north of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, Thach’s family has been forced to leave their house to take refuge on a higher ground since mid July. This was especially warranted after two near fatal incidents of her two-year-old daughter who fell into the floodwaters.

Thach’s conditions have deteriorated after heavy rain brought on by Ketsana, which coincided with the annual floods on 29 September. The storm blew off the roof of her temporary shelter made of palm leaves and tree branches. The same storm devastated parts of the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos. “On the night of the typhoon, the wind was so strong that the roof could not stand it anymore. The downpour of rain was frightening,” Thach recalled the night Ketsana swept across the region. “I used sleeping mats to cover my four children and a blanket to cover my then two-week-old daughter while my husband and I were trembling in the rainwater praying for the storm to end.”

Thach's family finds its feet

 

You Thach's house completely surrounded by floodwaters. Photo: Soleak Seang/Oxfam America
You Thach's house completely surrounded by floodwaters.

 

Thach had to find palm leaves to re-roof her temporary shelter. After Ketsana, rain kept pouring down, sometimes non-stop for a few days. Everyday they looked for food and hoped that the rain would stop. When finally access to Thach’s village was open, she received an Oxfam’s relief kit containing one plastic sheet, one water filter, two sleeping mats, one mosquito net, one krawma (a traditional multi-purpose scarf in Cambodia), one Sarong, one kettle, two 16-litre buckets, one 80-litre bucket, and a bar of soap. These items have helped her to make the living conditions a little better and to ensure that the family has clean drinking water which will help fend off some water borne diseases.

Thach told Oxfam that finding enough food for her family is a challenge. A month before, she received 60kg of rice from a relief organisation, but the rice was long gone because she had to feed the family and return some of the rice she had borrowed from others. To get by, Thach and her husband skip meals so that their children can have more. But malnutrition is already visible. “Now, it’s extremely difficult to borrow rice from others because everybody is in urgent need of rice,” Thach said. “Today I could only borrow four kilograms of cassavas and this will keep my children full for only two days.”

Oxfam responds

 

Flood affected communities receiving assistance from Oxfam. Photo: Soleak Seang/Oxfam America
Flood affected communities receiving assistance from Oxfam

 

Oxfam’s target to reach 5,000 households in the next few weeks includes hard-hit families like Thach’s. “More efforts by humanitarian agencies are needed as receding waters become shallow, disrupting delivery of aid by boat,” said Francis Perez, Country Lead of Oxfam International in Cambodia. “Oxfam will consider giving cash for food if that is the only resort to avoid hunger.”

Oxfam is also concerned about public health in the effected communities as water-related diseases are increasing and access for many is difficult. In Thach’s village, Village Chief Houen Chea said only four families in his village went to a health centre within the last three months. The nearest health centre is eight kilometres away and now a boat is necessary to reach the centre.

Thach’s husband, Lun Peang, can hardly walk as his foot was cut with a bamboo thorn. The foot continues to swell and he cannot perform even the basic daily chores. Lun never sought medical help. “Even if the public health centre does not charge me fees, I will not go because I do not have the 1 USD I need to pay for the boat to the centre,” Lun said.

The bigger picture

 

Boats have become the main means of transportation. Photo: Soleak Seang/Oxfam America
Boats have become the main means of transportation

 

There are many families just like Thach’s. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people are affected throughout the country. A total of eight provinces in central and northern Cambodia are affected by floods and heavy rain caused by Ketsana. Oxfam’s reports show 10,867 families being affected with 19 deaths in Kampong Thom province alone.

Oxfam targets three hard-hit provinces: Kampong Thom, Kratie, and Stueng Treng. About 97,000 people in the three provinces are affected with 40,000 hectares of rice fields destroyed. Public infrastructure and private properties including houses and livestock were damaged or lost, causing major livelihoods disruption to the affected communities.

Oxfam is working to restore people’s livelihoods. Vulnerable families like Thach’s are Oxfam’s priority. Thach was trained by Oxfam staff on how to use the water filters and how to minimise health risks. Oxfam has reached 75 percent of the intended 5,000 families with relief items despite difficult access to many affected communities. It also plans to reach an additional 5,000 families in the recovery phase in the next three to six months to help provide sanitation, rehabilitate safe water sources, and ensure food and livelihood security for the affected communities.

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