Chin Cheng Hong’s house is built on stilts, but so high have the floodwaters risen in Cambodia this year that even this was not enough to protect her completely. When the waters crept through her floorboards, she knew things were really bad.
Cheng Hong, mother of five is sitting in the shade with her eight-year-old daughter Cheng Hoa after receiving a monthly rice ration from the World Food Programme (WFP) – along with other items from partner NGO Save the Children – at a distribution on her island in the Mekong not far from Kampong Cham.
“The river came up right over my floor,” says Cheng Hong. “We lost our tobacco crop and all our crops around the house – all the fruit and vegetables we would use at home and take to market as well. We also lost our chickens and pigs.”
The floods in Cambodia this year are the worst in over a decade. About 1.5 million people have been affected, and 250,000 displaced. Some villages have been underwater for almost two months, schools and health centres are closed, and thousands of homes have been destroyed or badly damaged. Whilst many communities are well adapted to flooding, many others are not, and are in urgent need of assistance.
The scale of the crisis and the damage done to agricultural fields also means that the impact of this year’s floods will be felt for many months to come. Cheng Hong knows she faces a tough struggle.
“We really don’t know how we are going to plan for the next weeks and months. My children are not going to school which is a concern for me. With our tobacco crop destroyed, it’s going to be difficult to find money to buy food. Of all the things I am getting today the most important is the rice,” she says.
To make matters worse still, the floods have prompted a spike in the price of rice in some areas, and also deprived many of the kind of casual labour which for poorer households can often be the difference between having enough food on the table and going hungry.
In close collaboration with the Cambodian Government, WFP is working towards an expansion of its current operation, to reach 150,000 of the most vulnerable people in the coming months, both with immediate emergency distributions, and then with projects designed to help communities recover from the flooding.
“Floods take their toll over time,” said WFP Cambodia Country Director Jean-Pierre de Margerie. “Communities also take time to recover. WFP understands this and will be working side by side with those worst affected to help them rebuild their lives.”
For Cheng Hong, at least she now knows she and her family will have enough rice for the next month thanks to WFP’s assistance. But these have been difficult times, and fears remain.
“If next year is the same, I have no idea how we will cope,” she says. “This year we have already lost everything.”