I thank the report by the Governor and Head of the Provincial Council that helps us understand the facing problems from flood in Kompong Thom, and particularly in the Baray District. It has always been my concern and I have set it a priority to monitor the flood situation throughout the country. As you know, flood threats have been at national level. We can also say they are regional too. Among Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which border on the Mekong, Thailand has been the most affected country.
As far as Kompong Thom province is concerned, I have kept in touch with the Governor HE Tchun Tchuan so as to gather information on the flood situation. As in Siemreap province, I have ordered helicopters and motor boats to rescue tourists who had been stranded by flash flooding at the temple of Banteay Srey. It was a successful rescue mission as no one dies in the incident.
For what happened in Siemreap no one knew from where the flood had come. It had been so sudden. Some two hundred tourists had had to seek for high grounds. It has become our first year that we had to provide air rescue for flood strained tourists and people.
It has been years that flood never came as far as the National Road 6 (which is running on the northern side of the Tonle Sap Lake). This year, the seasonal flooding from the Mekong has reached the southern side of the NR 6 as we wished for. However, we also have huge rains that cause rain flooding on the northern side of the NR 6. Floods from the two sources join their strength and raise the flood level to a new height of concern. This has slowed down the water flow from the northern section of the NR 6 down to the Tonle Sap Lake (which is lying on the southern section of the road).
As I said earlier, annual flooding from the Mekong has been exceptionally high coupled with heavy downpours in the northern parts of the country, which culminated in blocking water current that Kompong Thom province seems to be the one that is suffering the most. On my way here I notice that we have area where on either sides of the road water levels are of similar heights but in some areas, we also notice different levels of water from one side of the road to another too.
As has been proposed by HE Tchun Tchuan, certain measures will have to be taken in order to resolve the issue in the later stage. However, we need to have a thorough and long term study of the issues. As you may learn that we will need to enlarge the width of the NR 6 section between Kompong Thom and Siemreap province to eleven meters. The project has been presented to our Chinese friend already. It may be wise also if we focus on building more bridges or widen the existing ones so that water could flow in speedy manner.
We gave it a serious thought, based on this reality, on whether we should cut open sections of the NR 6 in order to relieve the flood pressure from the highland area of Kompong Thom province to the lower area (of Tonle Sap Lake) or not. In 2000, because of serious flood threat to Phnom Penh, we decided to cut open sections of the NR 1 to allow flood to gush down south. Also with flash flood from rain in the western part of Phnom Penh, I also ordered similar measure on the NR 2 so as to relieve the flood pressure from Dangkao district in west of Phnom Penh.
However, the situation here in Kompong Thom has been different. If we were to go for that measure we may have to do it in ten different places. Because the road has been our main lifeline in providing recue assistance and in continuing economic activities, cutting it in so many places would be like cutting our artery. Cutting open the NR 6 is then out of the question. We have to look for a more long-term solution so that we will be able to avert the disaster for many more years to come.
I agree with the conclusions reached by some that road constructions so far in this area have not allocated sufficient waterways. Even if in some places where we have sufficient waterways, we still have problem because of too much water from hundreds of millimeters of rain in just hours on one side and exceptionally high seasonal flooding on the other of the road.
We now have identified the problems from flood in Kompong Thom province. The Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, HE Lim Kean Hor, provided me yesterday a figure of 54,188 hectares of land submerged under flood. As of today, we have a new figure provided by HE Tchun Tchuan that the area submerged under flood has now come to some 60,000 hectares with some 18,000 hectares in the district of Baray alone. The question is if flood stays longer or subsides soon will decide whether all submerged rice would survive or not.
As is recorded, water started to subside yesterday at the northern provinces of Stoeung Treng (0.32 meters) and Kratie (0.08 meters). The province down steam (of the Mekong River), Kompong Cham, will be recording a height of 0.35 meters lower than today’s 10.85 meters. However, the water level at Phnom Penh, which is further down, is still maintaining its level, whereas at Prek Kadam, flood entrance from the Mekong to Tonle Sap Lake, would continue to level up.
Facing with this situation, it would be everyone’s knowledge that at least half of the defined area under flood in Kompong Thom would not be recoverable. However, for the people in Baray district, because their rice fields have been flooded recently, there is higher chance that they may still have rice after the water subsides than those in the districts of Sandan, Kompong Svay, Stoeng Sen, Santuk and Prasat Sambo. Therefore, it has been estimated that Kompong Thom has so far been the most affected area from this year’s flooding.
Throughout the country, there have been estimates that some 131,366 hectares of rice have submerged. We may round this figure up to 140,000 hectares as flood is still gaining its momentum. There will be a special Cabinet’s meeting tomorrow and certain measures will be discussed. But first, I am giving some instruction to deal with the situation as of this moment.
First for fatal incidents caused by or related to flood, the Royal Government is to contribute some two million Riels for each death. This policy is to be applied to all and everywhere. The Secretary of State for Economy and Finance, HE Uk Rabun, must record this and see that this policy instruction will be implemented. Those deaths – either from drowning and/or from poisonous snakes, have so far been recorded to be of 58. Though their families may have received helps from the Cambodian Red Cross already, this is what the Royal Government has had to offer in time of difficulties.
The money is of small amount and it can never bring back life but this is the Royal Government’s policy and it can be of some help to family members to take care of things in this difficult circumstances.
The next solemn decision and absolute order in my capacity as the Prime Minister is that it would not be acceptable that any one people is left to die from going without food, while his/her condition has brought to the attention of the authority. I would order all level local authorities to keep monitoring the situation and do everything in their powers to see that our people do not die of food lacking without their knowledge and intervention.
In 2005 though, there was a case in Kompong Speu province that an old man at his 87 years of age died that some foreign radio services broadcast that Cambodian people died of food lacking. It was when we dig the canal at Kong Pisey district of Kompong Speu province. I called the Governor of the province and he told me the old chap was sick and could not take in any food. Even my father, who is now in hospitalization at his age of 89, could not take in any food but survives on intravenous infusion. I would recommend that this should not be a political joke.
What I mean by going without food is when we have a situation like in Somalia, where people have been living on small or no food ration for a certain period of time, children in malnourished condition.
As for Kompong Thom province, the company of Green Tech has had some 300 tons of rice in its stock and I would urge the Ministry of Commerce to transfer the rice to the provincial authority to be administered for provision to the target people. I have discussed with my wife, who is President of the Cambodian Red Cross, that the Royal Government will provide rice while other utensils will be in the CRC’s care.
Not only must these people in affected areas be provided with sufficient food, in addition to being transported to high grounds, we also have to take care of their health, as my order is no one should be left to die of any inflicted condition without the knowledge and assistance of our healthcare services.
I would expect that HE Mam Bun Heng, Minister of Health, will be sending healthcare teams to all high grounds where people resettle for the time being to provide preventive medicines and other care facilities deemed necessary.
I am sure that because of big flood, this year we will have more fish in the natural water system. There is one other reason too as all 35 fishing lots in the Tonle Sap Lake, which before contain the fish movement and population, have now been suspended. This should bring about together with flooding more fish population and their free movement that could get them into public water reservoirs throughout the country.
There has been a suggestion just now about how to go for seeds, restoration of water canals and provision of water pumps. I understand that we have some 100 tons of rice seed available here. I think it is important to map out areas where and how much seed will be needed. I urge that this task be implemented immediately. We must not be waiting till the water completely subsides.
I would urge also a consideration of setting up a common rice bed for all as this would help people deal with their need for seedling more effectively than being provided with seed. I think it is time for the authority to look for land where such a seed bed can commence. Maybe it is a good idea that we buy people’s rice in higher land that is not affected by flood and turn those lands into common seed beds. An appropriate amount of rice must be paid for them to get their permission to use their land so that they do not need to wait for the harvest.
This will certainly speed things up here. Once that works out, I think we better look into issue of laboring that I believe our cadets could play active roles there. They may help in preparing the beddings and/or other tasks deemed to be necessary. I am sure this is not only a model to be applied in Kompong Thom province but everywhere.
In addition to all that I have mentioned, I agree totally with the measure to provide people in flood affected areas with seeds of other crops as some areas, after flooding, may no longer be appropriate for rice cultivation anymore. HE Chan Sarun, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told me that he had already discussed with the local authority leaders about possibility of diversifying crops in post flood-affected areas. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will be providing them with the seeds according to their type of land and geographical condition.
For a longer term, perhaps we must swap some of our land to growing other crops, whether they are for commercial or for food. It is now time for us to diversify our cropping pattern and ability as depending on rice alone would no longer be sustainable because of lack of water or too much water.
Now I am coming to issue relating to infrastructural damages. I have been informed that the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Transports and Public Works have already discussed how to get to deal with the situation together. I would give priority to fixing those bridges that are currently out of order because of flooding. The engineering teams of the Ministry of National Defense, the General Staff and the Infantry, will repair all bridges damaged from flood and to replace wooden bridges with Bailey ones.
Once the bridges are done, all damaged roads must also be rehabilitated so as to regain connectivity.
As we will have in a few days the opening of new school year, as I have noticed somewhere in Baray district there is a banner announcing the new school year opening, I would urge people, in the affected area, who involve in launching the event go into thorough discussion with the Ministry of Education. It seems that some 107 schools in Kompong Thom alone are still underwater. So I would suggest that the launch of the new school year event in the flood affected area be postponed to later date.
School buildings underwater could be dangerous for kids. Even when the flood subsides completely I would urge special attention given to reviewing the condition of the building and the state of the classroom before allowing kids to resume their school days.
I am still waiting for the figure of schools that are under flood throughout the country. Again, it is wiser to reschedule the opening of the school year for those areas to a later date…/.