I have just returned from a monitoring visit to Cambodia where the widespread flooding in that country has caused major problems for the people, especially those living in remote, rural locations. There has been very little media coverage of the situation affecting Cambodia, though more about the floods in neighbouring Thailand, particularly as it begins to affect the industrial and economic hub of the country and its airport. Flooding is a tragedy wherever it happens as there is often little that can be done in the face of such a large volume of water spread over many kilometres, and we only have to look to recent events in Queensland for examples of that. But when a tragedy affects us here in Australia there are a number of community organisations and government departments which swiftly arrive to deliver essential supplies, provide rescue to a safe location, help clean up what the flood waters leave behind and rebuild our homes. In Cambodia such resources do not exist.
It is usual for some areas of Cambodia to be briefly flooded each year as part of the aftermath of the monsoons. This is an effective component of rice growing which benefits from being planted in very wet soil. This year has been unprecedented in living memory both in the extent of the flooding and the duration. Many areas have been under water for at least eight weeks! The effect of this has been enormous. Homes are cut off, roads damaged due to the swirling waters, livestock lost, schools closed, and agricultural areas washed away. Many families have used up all available food stores, and over 200 people have lost their lives. For many families living on the banks of rivers and ponds, flooding is a natural annual event, and they possess a boat which enables them to collect supplies or travel to safer areas if necessary. This year the flooding has affected many families for whom this type of experience is new – they don’t have a boat and so are stranded, and many cannot swim which is particularly true of the women I spoke to recently.
The Cambodian Government and members of the Red Cross have managed to deliver supplies to some communities, but not all. The national papers are full of quotes from people who have not received any supplies, or from members of a community that has been given rations but from which they were excluded. Ponna Em, QSA’s project manager in Pursat Province is also a member of the General Assembly and has been busy distributing these supplies but as she pointed out to me, it is very difficult if you don’t live in a community to know all of the details of the people, to know where the more marginalised members live or are currently sheltering. When people arrive to deliver food there is quite a throng of people who gather to receive the supplies, though it is difficult to know who is related to whom to know if every family is receiving something, or other families are getting too much. A system of vouchers has now been introduced to address this situation, which is making things a little easier.
And what of the impact of the flooding on QSA’s projects? Well sadly all of the wonderful permaculture gardens which Friends on the Study Tour saw and admired have been submerged, causing the roots of many plants and trees to rot and so will need to be replaced. Supplies of seeds waiting to be planted have become waterlogged and useless, and replacement seeds and seedlings especially of rice, the staple food, have become scarce and more expensive.
QSA has been asked to provide the several hundred trainees with replacement seeds and seedlings, which will cost about $20,000. Can you help us to do this? Any amount of tax-deductible donations towards this extraordinary situation would be most gratefully received.
The QSA office address is 119 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010. Please indicate that the donation is for the seeds and seedling replacements in Cambodia. Thank you Friends.