Sunday, November 6, 2011

Relief Is Slow to Reach Cambodia Flood Victims

The high water is devastating even for a country inured to monsoon rains and waterlogged rice fields: wide swaths of Cambodia’s countryside have become giant lakes, with villagers and livestock marooned on scattered patches of dry land.

The floods that have affected three-quarters of the country’s land area, by the United Nations’ estimate, have been overshadowed by similar troubles in Cambodia’s larger and wealthier neighbor, Thailand, where the government is scrambling to protect central Bangkok from inundation.

Here in Cambodia, though, aid workers describe a more Darwinian struggle and a generally higher degree of desperation among villagers. “This is the worst I’ve seen in my career,” said Soen Seueng, a 58-year-old doctor who tended to a long line of flood victims on Wednesday, most of them women and children, who were camped on a strip of raised land accessible only by boat.
Dr. Seueng grasped the limp arm of a 6-year-old girl, Lor Chaneut, who received a diagnosis of dengue fever, the mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal without close medical attention. “You must take her to the hospital,” Dr. Seueng urged the girl’s family. The girl’s mother, Jeok Kimsan, said the family’s savings were wiped out by the floods. “We will go to the hospital when we get some money,” she said, as her husband built a fish trap.

Flood victims, many of whom begged a foreign visitor for help, took shelter here under plastic sheeting, like refugees from a civil war. Cows, pigs and chickens shared the strip of dry land, which was covered with animal and human waste. “The toilet is everywhere,” said Henry Y. Sophorn, a Cambodian-born American who represents a nonprofit group, Disadvantaged Cambodians Organization, which is part of a syndicate delivering aid to flood victims.
In Thailand, the government has used helicopters, military vehicles and an array of equipment to reach and assist flood victims, but in Cambodia the work of providing basic necessities has been largely left to private organizations.
“The government can only help a small number of people — they don’t have the capacity,” said Mr. Sophorn, whose organization has supplied 3,400 families with medical care, rice, instant noodles, canned fish and bottled water, using money from a donor in Hong Kong who has asked to remain anonymous.

With little or no government assistance, many villagers have been left to fend for themselves. “The big impact is just starting,” said Sen Jeunsafy, a spokeswoman in Cambodia for Save the Children, an international aid organization. “What we have done is provided immediate relief. But collectively, we have not been able to reach every family.” More