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Flooding Claims 250 Lives, as Government Response Continues

People sit as they receive flood donations at downtown Phnom Penh, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.
People sit as they receive flood donations at downtown Phnom Penh, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.

The government raised the national death toll from ongoing flooding to nearly 250 on Friday, as Cambodia continues to grapple with its worst flooding in a decade.

More than 30,000 families have been pushed out of their homes in flooding that began in August. About 390,000 hectares of rice crop have been damaged, along with 2,700 kilometers of roadways in 17 provinces, according to government estimates.

The government has set aside more than $100 million to help repair damages, Hun Sen said Friday.

Relief efforts so far have included food and clothing deliveries to some 76,000 families, Hun Sen said. The Council of Ministers will provide more money to extend the relief efforts to another 40,000 families, he said.

International assistance has meanwhile started coming in, he said, with China providing $8 million for assistance, Japan $330,000 and the US $50,000.

However, some opposition officials have been critical of relief efforts so far.

“Some measures to rescue people seem slow up to now,” said Nhem Ponharith, secretary-general of the Human Rights Party. “We really have concerns about the lack of food and medicine in the future.”

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said the government must speed up its efforts. “Our people are increasingly suffering,” he said.

Friday’s new death toll comes on the heels of an emergency meeting Thursday, after which Hun Sen announced the cancelation of this year’s annual Water Festival.

By canceling the festival, during which millions of Cambodians typically flock to the capital for three days of boat races and other events, Hun Sen said the government could use more resources to better help communities cope with the effects of the floods.

“The active forces must help repair the damages,” he said. “The majority of the racing boats come from the flooded areas. The government has to pay for the water festival ceremonies.”

He encouraged people to celebrate in their home provinces, “at Buddhist pagodas and in their communities.”

The government typically pays $2,500 to the nation’s 400 or so racing teams, a cost of about $1 million.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters Thursday the money will instead be used to help flood victims this year. He encouraged other celebration events during the three-day holiday, including playing music in public venues.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the cancelation was a bad decision.

“It’s a national tradition,” he said. The festival also attracts foreign tourists, he said. That revenue will be lost. “We get double interest from foreign tourists visiting Cambodia,” he said.