Flood survivor reunited with family in Cambodia’s Kompong Thom province

Published: 26 October 2011 18:00 CET

By Sally Bolton in Phnom Penh

More than 1.2 million people have been hit by flooding that has affected 17 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces since August. Kompong Thom is one of the provinces that has suffered the most. Much of the province sits on the flood plain of the Tonle Sap lake – the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia.
But amidst the misery of these record floods, there are also stories of hope. A 14-year-old girl who was missing for six days in Kompong Thom province has been reunited with her family by the Cambodian Red Cross Society.

The girl left her home, which had been cut off by floodwaters, to search for food. As she was collecting vegetables, her small wooden boat capsized, and she clambered on its upturned hull. She drifted for six days across flooded rice paddies, until a local fisherman spotted her boat near Kdybetmeas village – more than 40km from her own village.

The fisherman, Som Tout, rescued the girl and took her to the villge. Suffering from extreme hunger and exposure she was taken to the health centre in Kompongko commune, Kompong Svay district, for emergency treatment.

Meas Sameoun, leader of the Red Cross in Kompongko commune, heard the girl’s story and reported it to the Committee President and the director of society’s Kompong Thom branch. The Cambodian Red Cross Society team immediately arranged for an ambulance to transfer the girl from Kompongko Health Center to the provincial hospital.

Shortly after meeting the girl and confirming her address and her parents’ identities, Mr Sameoun visited her parents to let them know that their daughter had been rescued.  The parents rushed to the hospital to see their daughter. She is currently recovering with support from her family. Cambodian Red Cross Kompong Thom branch has provided the family with a flood relief package.

Houses on the floodplain are typically built on stilts, elevating them above the floodwaters.  However many houses along river banks are at risk, as land destabilized by the flooding threatens to collapse into the rivers. The director of Cambodian Red Cross Society’s Kompong Thom branch reports that teams of volunteers have helped to move houses off unstable sites, saving them from potential landslides.

The extent of this year’s flooding, the worst since 2000, has stretched emergency resources to the limit.

Over the past six weeks a total of 143 safe areas have been set up in Kampong Thom, but only 50 of these are still active – the other areas have been inundated by the rising water.

In Kampong Kor Leor commune, 100 families were evacuated from six villages to a safe area set up at the primary school on 16 October. Within four days this number had swollen to 300. The national Red Cross society conducted a rapid assessment to identify the most vulnerable people who would then receive emergency relief packages.

The evacuees are mostly women and children, while the men have stayed at their houses to look after livestock and animals. Many families have lost their entire rice crop to the floods, and it is very important for them to keep their animals alive to safeguard their livelihoods.

Cheat Chat says that the people staying in the safe areas are the highest priority for assistance from the society, local authorities and other NGOs working in the province. “Floodwaters are still rising in some areas and emergency relief operations will continue for some weeks. We are drawing up a longer-term recovery plan, that will last for another four months from November”

21,266 families in Kompong Thom had received flood relief assistance from Cambodian Red Cross Society as of 20 October. Earlier this month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released 308,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the response of the National Society across the country.