Background and Cambodia Disaster Situation

Background and Cambodia Disaster Situation



Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 square kilometers and is divided into 21 provinces. It is bordered to the North by Thailand and Laos, to the East and South by Vietnam, and to the South and Southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. Most of Cambodia's land is relatively flat with vast tracts of land given over to rice production. Other areas of Cambodia are mountainous, including the Dangrek, Cardomen and Elephant mountain ranges.

Climate and Seasons

As a tropical country, Cambodia is bathed in almost all year sunshine and has a high average temperature. There are two distinct seasons, the dry and the monsoon. The monsoon lasts from May to October with southwesterly winds ushering in the clouds that bring seventy five to eighty percent of the annual rainfall often in spectacular intense bursts for an hour at a time with fantastic lightening displays. The dry season runs from November to April averaging temperatures from 27 to 40 degrees Celsius. The coolest and most comfortable for those from cooler climates is from October to January.

Sociological hazard

Following a five-year struggle, communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns; over 1 million displaced people died from execution or enforced hardships. A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside and touched off 13 years of fighting. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy, as did the rapid diminishment of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces. These were the experiences that currently still traumatize Cambodian's spirit.

Current environmental hazard

previously illegal logging activities throughout the country and strip mining for gems in the western region along the border with Thailand have resulted in habitat loss and declining biodiversity (in particular, destruction of mangrove swamps threatens natural fisheries); soil erosion; in rural areas, a majority of the population does not have access to potable water; toxic waste delivery from Taiwan sparked unrest in Kampong Saom (Sihanouk Ville) in December 1998.

Natural hazard

Severe destructions resulted from the above decade conflicts still cause Cambodia vulnerable. Natural disaster, on the other hand, which lately emerged consequently from the above experiences, has caused Cambodia highly potential-exposed to both economical and social vulnerabilities; as a result, Cambodia is highly susceptible to natural disasters, primarily floods.

Currently Cambodia is particularly prone to Annual River Flooding during the monsoon-raining season while other phenomena also frequently occur such as; tropical storms, droughts and forest fires etc. Those hazards are major factors cause occurrence of natural disasters that lead to contributory reduction of the pace of sustained economic development in this country. Many Cambodian communities, mainly communities situate along the two major watersheds; Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, have proven to be extremely vulnerable to the effects of those natural hazards. Localized flooding caused by monsoon thunderstorms is a serious threat as they periodically sweep the country. These natural phenomena are both a curse and a blessing as the farmers depend on the annual rainfall for crop production and have developed an extensive water management system to trap and store water to be utilized during periods of drought. In this way, many parts of the country are capable of harvesting a primary rice crop and a secondary harvest of vegetables or other cash producing commodities. But in the series of consecutively extreme flood years, high water of flood wash away dams, dikes and distribution structures, destroy crops and livestock, damage homes, temples, schools, clinics, roads, and other community infrastructure and even cause loss of human life. This increasingly lead Cambodia to food shortage, loss of economic output, health contamination and consequently hunger and poverty.

The Mekong River and its hazards

The Mekong River is the world's 12th longest river system, with a total length of 4,400 km, a drainage area of 795,000 sq. km and an average annual runoff of 475,00 million cubic meters. The Mekong River Basin possesses the regions' largest potential water resources. Floods in the Mekong Basin are part of the daily life of the people. But food security, poverty reduction and sustainable development are not possible with extreme flood events that cause great loss of property, and severe disruption of livelihood.

Every year, floods of varying intensity affect the Cambodia along two natural major watersheds, Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. Both Mekong River and Tonle Sap dominate almost the land of paddies and forests of Cambodia. The Mekong River bisects the eastern third of the country north to south, flowing out of Laos through Cambodia and into Vietnam with its 500km length. Annual monsoon rains swell the Mekong causing the Tonle Sap to reverse it course, flooding Tonle Sap Lake and affecting the northwest region of the country.

Cambodia's chronic annual flooding reached catastrophic proportion in September 1996. As a result of heavy rains in China, Laos and Vietnam, the Mekong River rose dramatically in mid-September, causing serious floods in six provinces along the river. The consequence of the flooding affected 1.3 million people with over half requiring urgent emergency aids. That was generally acknowledged to be the worst flooding in more than 30 years of Cambodian history as more than 600,000 hectares of crops and 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The flood also seriously damaged such infrastructure and critical facilities as schools and other public buildings. Beyond the experiences, the disastrous phenomena had consecutively threatened Cambodia, given as unexpected extreme flooding of high waters keep hitting her communities and generated even worst situation in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

In the year 2000, heavy rainstorms affected the entire Mekong River watershed early in the flood seasons starting July. This was perceived to be earlier than the usual start of the raining season. After a short dry spell, heavy rainstorms swept the Basin again in late August causing serious flooding in the lower area of the Mekong, especially in Cambodia and in Vietnam. There were beliefs that the flood of 2000 brought benefits such as natural fish spawning, increase in bio-diversity, soil nutrients, new land accretion and natural flushing, but there were also significant negative impacts. Last year's floods in the Mekong river basin were the worst in terms of damages in over 70 years, even though from the perspective of hydro-meteorology, the year 2000 flood was not significantly different from other historical flood. More than eight million people in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were affected, plus two million in Thailand. The estimated damages are shown as follows:

Laos- US$ 19.5 million, 398,760 people affected and 15 dead
Cambodia-US$ 157 million, 3.5 million people affected and 347 dead
Vietnam- US$ 285.7 million, 5 million people affected and 448 dead

The flood of 2000 affected all the four countries in the Mekong River Basin including Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. But it was in Cambodia that the most severe effects of flood were felt based on reports compiled by the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The deaths in Cambodia constituted 43% of total deaths (800) in all countries affected, while direct damages represented 40% of total damages (estimated at US$ 400 million) in all of these countries. The member states of MRC expressed deep concern about this flood as it reached extremely high water levels. The flood of 2000 was more serious than previously recorded in Cambodia, when severe flooding in the area occurred in 1961, 1966, 1978, 1984, 1991, and 1996.

In 2001, Cambodia was again affected by flood and drought though the country was still in the process of recovering from the effects of the 2000 flood disaster. The increasing frequency of extreme climate events has resulted to worsening and more frequent damaging floods in Cambodia such as those that contributed to flooding in 2001.

IFRC World Disaster Report: 2002

1982-1991 1992-2001
Total no. of people reported killed 100 1,094
Total no. of people reported affected 900,000 13,336,614

Due to effects of storm and strong rainfall affecting Thailand, Laos, and China, including the very fast water flow from Yaly Dam in Viet Nam into the Mekong River, some provinces were severely affected by flood on 13-15 August 2001, at a level that have not been experienced before. The flood also brought sedimentation into the Mekong River and Bassac River and caused damage to many national and rural roads and bridges.

On the other hand, due to strong rains in Phnom Penh and in some areas in the country and the fact that waterways are narrower downstream, the water flowed down significantly slower than its normal flow. Some districts in the provinces located near the Viet Nam border, had high flood level above the danger level for a longer period of time, a condition that was not earlier anticipated.

While vast numbers of areas were flooded in 2001, some areas in Cambodia were also affected by drought, some areas had insufficient rainfall from early months of the year until the end of 2001. Many people and livestock were faced with lack of drinking water and household water use. In some areas, people could not plant rice due to unavailable rice seeds that were depleted during the previous year and when rain came by the end of the year it appeared that the rice season would have been significantly delayed.

The flood and drought of 2001 had caused damages to so many social infrastructure systems, properties, crops, life, health of people, and animals. Listed below is a summary of Disaster Impact in Year 2001 (Damaged may be found in Disaster Damage Report Year 2001). It was estimated that the total direct damages of disasters in 2001 was at US$36 million.

Due to these unfortunate events, the World Disaster Report published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has categorized Cambodia as the third (3rd) most disaster prone countries in the entire world in years 2000 and 2001. This was computed in terms of percentage of population affected by disasters in relation to the total number of population.

At the start of 2002, Cambodia was again affected by a long dry spell severely affecting crop production in 8 provinces and affecting a total of 71,600 hectares. The expected rainfall necessary for wet season rice production did not arrive in May and a recent NCDM assessment reported severe conditions in many rural communities. Furthermore, the official declaration of the return of the global extreme climate events called El Nino would potentially exacerbate the impacts of natural disasters to Cambodia.

In year 2002 ten province were stricken by drought, seventy-six (76) districts/Khan and four hundred and twenty (420) communes/sangkat. The most severely affected provinces were Kampong Speu, Prey Veng, Takeo, Kandal and Odor Meanchey. Populations affected were 442,419 families consisting of 2,047,340 people. Total damages were approximately estimated at US$ 21,500,000 dollars, particularly on rice plantation with 62,702 hectares damaged.

On the other hand, simultaneously effect of flood along Mekong River region was similar to the flood in year 2001, whereas flood in Tonlé Sap Lake areas was like the one in year 2000 as a result of influx rainwater from Dang Rek Mountain range after heavy rainfall. There were 89 communes, 38 districts in 6 provinces around Tonlé Sap Lake affected. Thirty-five km of Road No.6 between Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey were flooded. Due to the flooding 12 km were cut and damaged. Also affected by flood were 129 schools, 14,356 houses and 7 health centers. Damages to infrastructure were 2 school buildings, 35 houses. On the agriculture were 45,003 hectares of rice plantation and to livestock with the death of 56 cows, 22 water buffaloes and 1,690 pigs.

Casualties from the flood resulted to 29 people dead by drowning. Children comprise most of the death with 9 females. Total damages were approximately estimated at US$ 12,450,000 dollars.

The cabinet level institution of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), attempted to cope with and respond to those annual catastrophes for the past seven years, however, the effort was considered largely effective under the condition of an emerging country that both the government and its people were and still are limited at preparedness to respond to a disaster of those scope and magnitude.

Limited actions of Provincial Committee for Disaster Management (PCDM) on flood early warning, weather forecasts and prediction of the extent and severity of the flooding was not accurate, as a consequence the level of preparedness was inadequate. Flood prediction was only available for one day forewarning and only at national and provincial level. Indeed, from a preparedness perspective, the length of forewarning was not adequate. Additionally, although television broadcasts provide situational update on the damages of flood, no public awareness about its consequences and what local actions need to be taken before and during the flood were provided.

Absence of partnership agreement and implementing guidelines for PCDM collaborative action prohibited the effectiveness of coordination and cooperation between PCDM, NGOs and international organizations. One of the most important lessons learned from the flood of 2000 is that there is an urgent necessity for improving inter agency or inter organizational coordination. As a starting point, if there is recognition that future-damaging disasters will happen, NCDM must be assisted to improve its capacity, system and procedures in damage and needs assessment and reporting. Such information is important if coordination have to be achieved. At the moment, there are areas that need to be improved as cited to the Assessment Team by various organizations and stakeholders.

To strengthen the local capacity building in Information Disaster Management System the project should be cover on public awareness especially among the disaster management officials of the provincial and district level, providing the training courses on Standardization of Disaster Information Definition and Reporting formats.

Those above situations clearly require and demand the urgent need for effective institutions to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups in Cambodia such as the National Committee for Disaster Management.

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