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Hundreds Protest Unfair Rice Distribution

Hundreds of families from Banteay Meanchey and Pursat provinces protested Monday against unfair distribution of millions of dollars in emergency food aid.

“It is hurtful when we are the real poor and we cannot get rice aid,” said Prak Chuop, a villager in Bantey Meanchey, who joined other protesters in front of provincial headquarters.

Local authorities have been handing out rice, rice seed, fertilizer, in both provinces since Oct. 30, part of a $40 million aid package meant to offset the costs of inflation.

The ADB provided $35 million, with the government matching $5 million.

But villagers now say they aid is not reaching the most desperate.

“When I saw [the family of the village chief] going in a group, I asked them where they were going. They said, ‘To a meeting,’ but when they came back, they carried between six and 10 bags of rice,” said Ok Nonn, a protester from Pursat, where around 200 villager sat in protest at the headquarters of Thnoth Chum commune, Krakor district. “But we were not told.”

The ADB expects to distribute 120,000 tons of milled rice to 340,000 people in 200 communes for the emergency aid.

Under the ADB plan, each member of a family should receive one 35-kilogram bag of rice, but monitors for the rights group Adhoc said they received complaints from more than 200 villagers in Banteay Meanchey of much less.

“Some families received only 35 kilograms of rice [total], and some others received only 30 cans of rice,” said Sum Chankea, provincial coordinator of Adhoc in Banteay Meanchey. Thirty cans make about 7 kilograms of rice.

Long Piseth, project officer of the ADB, said he recognized the possibility of the problem. The emergency assistance was prepared in only three weeks, he said. The ADB has received 33 complaints on its hotline since the beginning of distribution, he said.

The government is responsible for unfair distribution, but the ADB will also consider how it can help the poor who missed the emergency aid, Long Piseth said.

“If we run out of emergency rice, we will take action at the end of distribution, when we have received other reports from [our] NGO monitors,” he said.

For those who miss the emergency rice, the ADB could provide rice under its “food-for-work” program or sell rice seeds at low cost, Long Piseth said.

Vorng Sandap, deputy secretary-general for the Ministry of Finance, who is in charge of the aid distribution, said Monday that the poorest people would be ensured rice under the food-for-work program.

“But it is too early to predict our actions against authorities, because the program is not finished yet,” he said.