Driving from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, water stretches out as far as the eye can see. Lush rice paddies have been transformed into a calm, murky ocean whose surface is only interrupted by palm trees and the occasional tin rooftop. You have the sensation that the entire country has been transformed into an enormous floating village. However, the seemingly peaceful landscape is misleading. Water, the giver of life, can just as easily take it away. (Tess O’Brien, Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference)
Since August, Cambodia has been experiencing its worst natural disaster of the past decade. Devastating floods throughout 19 provinces have claimed 207 lives, 52 percent of which are children, and affected 1.2 million people.
“Many homes have been completely destroyed. Some people are living in the pagoda, others are with their brothers and sisters,” said Srey Mom, director of Metta Karuna Jesuit Service Siem Reap. “Just yesterday in a community where we work, a family’s boat tipped and the entire family of six drowned. Stories like this are coming in every day.” According to the latest statistics released by the Cambodian Disaster Relief Committee, nearly 22 000 families are displaced in Siem Reap Province alone.
The floods have been particularly devastating in Kompong Goe where Fr Jup is the community parish priest. The lower level of every single house in the community is submerged in water and seven families whose homes have been completely destroyed are now living in the church's kindergarten. Pumi, a Spanish volunteer working with JRS, predicts more families will seek refuge in the church as the floods continue.
In a country where the majority of its people are dependant upon their own cultivation of rice and crops, the real impact of the floods has yet to come. According to the latest government figures, 150,000 hectares of rice paddies have been destroyed and an additional 200,000 hectares remain flooded and at risk of being lost. As a result, the people in Cambodia have a very hungry season ahead.
Amid the devastation of repeated floods
(Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference)