South-East Asia Floods: Cambodia on high alert

20 October, 2011
Svet Yen, 12 years, and his family have been displaced from their home in Kampong Chhnang Province in central Cambodia.
Svet Yen, 12 years, and his family have been displaced from their home in Kampong Chhnang Province in central Cambodia.

The worst floods in a more than a decade have devastated large areas of Cambodia, causing 247 deaths, displacing 46,000 households and disrupting the lives of 1.2 million people. The crisis is part of a region-wide emergency, in which seasonal rains and back-to-back typhoons have caused flooding across SE Asia, affecting more than 8 million people, and destroying homes, livelihoods and infrastructure.

Already estimated to be the worst floods in 50 years, more rain is forecast over the coming week. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is supporting national disaster management offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and the Phillipines, who are leading the response together with UN agencies and NGOs.

Children’s education put on hold

In Cambodia, a month after the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers broke their banks, water levels have still not receded.  Families sit under tarpaulins by the side of the road, their cows tied up close by. They cannot work; their farms are submerged and their crops destroyed. Some families say their food rations are running low. Access to safe water and sanitation are major concerns.

In Kampong Chhnang province, along the Tonle Sap River in central Cambodia, Svet Yen is 12 years old, and in fifth grade at Kbal Koh Primary School.

He has always been a good student, but Svet was only able to attend classes for two weeks before his school was closed due to high water levels. His family of eight has been displaced from their home.

For the past three weeks Svet and his family have been living in an open air pagoda, surrounded by water and accessible only by boat.

Water for cooking, bathing, cleaning and drinking comes from the river. There are no bathrooms at the pagoda and people jostle for space with pigs, chickens, and dogs.

Now that the school is closed Svet only eats two meals a day - which primarily consist of rice and fish that he catches from the river. Svet hopes for the waters to recede so he can go back to school and play football with his friends.

Emergency response

The UN is working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia and humanitarian organizations to assess needs, and to ensure aid reaches the most-affected families.

However the total impact will be difficult to assess until the waters recede, and the situation could deteriorate further. With many roads and bridges submerged and villages difficult to reach, delivery of urgently-needed aid is proving challenging.

The UN has nonetheless provided thousands of jerry cans, bars of soap, water purification tablets and ceramic water filters to help prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.  Rice is also being provided to families whose food stocks have run out.  Cash has also been made available to authorities to assist in flood relief efforts.

When hit by shocks such as this year’s extensive flooding, Cambodia families often have very limited options. One in five Cambodian households live below the food poverty line, and families will often resort to selling essential household assets, leading them into debt, or simply cutting back on food consumption.

“The UN in Cambodia considers the situation to be very serious,” said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, Chair of the UN Disaster Management Committee in Cambodia.


Reporting by Casey McCarthy, Office of the UN Resident Coordinator.