The worst floods in more than a decade along Southeast Asia’s Mekong River has left nearly 200 people dead, destroyed vast tracts of farmland and fishponds and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing from their homes.
Worries are growing about food shortages as rice paddy fields come under water. Water-borne diseases triggered by the death of livestock and poultry swept away by the floods are also posing a threat to flood victims.
Among the worst hit is Cambodia, with at least 141 people killed as the floods lashed 15 cities and provinces in the country, the National Disaster Management Committee said.
In flood prone Prey Veng province, which has suffered the highest death toll, residents are already grappling with food shortages and have appealed for immediate government assistance.
“I urge the government to help me. I am poor and now I’m facing floods,” said Prey Veng villager Chhun Chantha, a mother of five, lamenting that her family does not have enough rice, a staple diet, to eat.
“Most of the villagers are fishermen but now we can’t fish because of the floods,” she said.
Some 173,063 people had been affected by the floods in Cambodia, with 17,273 evacuated to higher grounds, and 61,473 hectares (151,903 acres) of rice paddies completely damaged, according to the disaster panel.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Red Cross to provide 200 million Cambodian riel (U.S.$50,000) to each province reeling from the floods, according Uy Sam Ath, the director of national disaster management with the Cambodian Red Cross.
High rice prices
Other countries affected by the swelling of the Mekong River are Laos, where at least 30 people have died and 400,000 others affected, and Vietnam, where flooding has helped drive rice prices to a three-year high, adding to the country’s double-digit inflation problems.
The Mekong delta in Vietnam produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice and 90 percent of its exportable grain.
Sources said that the authorities in Laos were under-reporting the flood destruction in central and southern provinces in a bid to avert public criticism.
RFA’s request to cover the situation in flood devastated areas in Laos has been turned down with no reasons given.
Eri Kudo, the World Food Program’s Representative to Laos, said a large number of communities across the flood-stricken Khammuane province had lost their 2010 harvest in flash floods.
They were “struck by disaster not once but twice,” Kudo said in a statement after the WFP distributed three month rations of U.S.-provided rice and vegetable oil to villagers who lost their harvest to recent floods.
The WFP provided aid to more than 200,000 people in five provinces “to ensure their food and nutrition security until the next harvest in November 2011.”
In Vietnam, at least 14 people have died in the floods, which also devastated 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of rice paddy fields and damaged 4,000 homes. Flooding is expected to peak in Vietnam in early October.
Vietnam News Agency reported that typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 39 people in China this week, had slammed the northern Quang Ninh province and nearby Hai Phong city on Friday.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai urged the provincial authorities to evacuate people from dangerous areas, speed up the rice harvest and close more schools to prevent deaths, Reuters news agency reported.
Around 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of the Mekong Delta’s third rice crop in Vietnam have been inundated as floods broke through dyke sections in the provinces of Dong Thap and An Giang, and another 90,000 hectares (22,240 acres) were under threat.
Disaster officials in Vietnam also said that fish and shrimp farmers had been moved to safe areas along the northern coast, the Associated Press reported.
Fish ponds destroyed
Aside from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the Mekong River also runs through Burma and Thailand from its source in China’s Tibetan plateau.
The Mekong is a vital source of protein for 60 million people who live along its lower basin and is the world’s largest inland fishery.
In Burma, more than 2,500 acres of fish ponds have been inundated throughout the country with losses estimated at about 25 million U.S. dollars, according to the Myanmar Fisheries Federation General Secretary Win Kyaing.
“Flooding was due to unprecedented rains and all the fish have gone with the flood waters,” he said.
Farmers also lost their crops in the Pegu division, as paddy fields came under water for several days.
“They are getting some loans from the government for the next season but it is not sufficient. They are in great trouble,” said former director-general of Burma’s department of meteorology, Tun Lwin.
In the northern Mandalay region, non-governmental organizations and local donors donated rice, cooking oil and drinking water when floods hit the area in early September.
In Thailand, the flood death toll had risen to 188 as the country was lashed by a series of tropical storms since late July. Nearly two million people have been affected by floods and mudslides, and 122 roads were impassable.
The damage was not along the Mekong areas but mostly from rising flood levels in the key Chao Phraya River and other smaller rivers.
More than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of farmland in Thailand were also under water early this week, an area 11 times the size of Singapore, Reuters reported.
Thailand is the world’s biggest rice exporter and its main rice crop of the year is normally harvested from October.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese, Lao, Khmer and Vietnamese services. Translated by Samean Yun from Khmer service, Viengsay Luangkhot from Lao service, Viet Ha from Vietnamese service and Khin Maung Nyane and Khin May Zaw from Burmese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.