Heavy downpours have been a regular occurrence this rainy season, with the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology predicting moderate flooding this year and urging people to remain on alert.
Previous floods have had catastrophic consequences. With the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) estimating that from 2005-2020, 729 people died as a result of flooding, how prepared are Cambodian communities?
To increase flood preparedness, the Cambodian government and the NCDM have built six shelters in three provinces for the evacuation of people in the event of flooding, said NCDM spokesman Soth Kim Kolmony.
The shelters in Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and Kampong Thom provinces, built with the support of the World Food Programme and the government and people of Japan, cost more than $1 million.
Built according to international standards and equipped with lightning protection, consist of kitchens, men’s and women’s rooms, water supply, laundry and washing facilities, playgrounds, warehouses and generators, the shelters can accommodate between 2,000 and 3,000 people. They were inaugurated in May 2021.
“These buildings are the government’s response to flood disasters to temporarily house people evacuated from their homes in the event of flooding.
“Prior preparedness for flood disasters is important to reduce the impacts on society and the economy,” Kim Kolmony said.
Flood preparedness measures include the provision of safe places, essential items and food for emergency response when floods occur, with the implementation of hygiene rules to maintain health.
Floods in Cambodia usually result from overflowing rivers or heavy rainfall. River floods are caused by heavy rains along the Mekong River that gather downstream through China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, and into Cambodia.
The flooding is exacerbated by heavy rains in mountain areas and plateaus, as well as areas around the Tonle Sap lake and the Mekong River basin, affecting the provinces around the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers.
Every year, overflowing rivers from heavy rains, powerful storms and tropical depressions flood parts of Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Kratie, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Kandal, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
Flooding from rain is caused by continuous heavy precipitation in the river basins around the Tonle Sap lake and tributaries of the Mekong, which cause the loss of water storage capacity in rivers and lakes in the area.
Floods usually occur quickly and recede quickly, often causing damage to crops and infrastructure, especially in the tributaries of the Mekong, the areas around the Tonle Sap lake and the lowlands.
Minor flooding benefits people’s livelihoods and makes the land fertile, replenishing water in the soil, which is beneficial for crops and fish biodiversity on which people depend for their livelihoods.
However, severe flooding damages property and infrastructure, adversely affects people’s lives.
Ly Galy of the Kampong Thom provincial administration told The Post that the local authorities are ready to provide all means – food, first aid and personnel – to respond to flood disasters should they occur this year.
In Kampong Thom province, he said, most cases of flooding generally occurred during September and October, with flood-prone areas including Sandan, Prasat Sambo, Kampong Svay districts, and other parts of Stoung and Stung Sen districts, as these areas are lowland adjacent to the Tonle Sap lake and along the Stung Sen River.
“Currently, in addition to transportation and personnel, we have also prepared equipment such as tents, water tanks and mobile toilets, as well as food for each target area,” he said.
“We also instruct the village, commune, district and town authorities in areas that face flooding to disseminate information on safety measures to the local population to avoid the dangers caused by floods,” Galy said.
Kampong Thom province has three international standard safety shelters, one in Prasat Sambor district, one in Kampong Svay district and the other in Sandan district, with each accommodating between 2,000 and 3,000 people, he added.
In addition to the three purpose-built shelters, shelters are also provided at pagodas and schools in communes, districts and towns facing flood risks.
Am Sothea, deputy governor of Kampong Chhnang province, told The Post that the provincial administration had informed local communities about the “#1294” phone number early warning system, which immediately informs authorities of flooding so they can respond rapidly.
“We have also prepared sandbags, machinery, boats, motorboats and intervention personnel to rescue people in flood-prone areas. We have also trained our officers in first aid measures for carrying out rescue operations when floods occur,” Sothea said.
Cambodia was successful in its implementation of the Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction 2019-2023 last year, with no one dying due to floods.
Thanks to the efforts of civil servants, the armed forces, partner organisations and NGOs, the private sector, and local communities in particular, it is confidently hoped that 2022 will also see no deaths from flooding.