A WFP assessment of food needs ensuing from a severe drought in April followed by floods in August and September estimates that 6,500 metric tons of food aid are required to help families in poor and disaster-prone districts over the next five weeks, WFP Country Director Rebecca Hansen said.
Hansen stressed that these new food shortages must serve as a "wake-up call" about the startling weather patterns that have sabotaged the Cambodian rice crop of vulnerable farmers in affected areas for three years in succession.
"We need to work intensively on ways to make people less vulnerable to these climatic anomalies," said Hansen, noting that WFP has identified 187 "priority communes" (out of a total 1,621) where there has been either too little or too much precipitation.
Instead of distributing straight food relief to the people in these areas, WFP is providing over 1,700 metric tons of food for disaster mitigation projects -- food-for-work schemes to rehabilitate reservoirs, community ponds, dikes and dams for irrigation purposes. This food will directly benefit an estimated 56,000 people in 116 villages in eight of the most affected provinces.
"Water management is crucial to Cambodia's future, and through food aid we can give thousands of people in rural areas more command over their water supply," Hansen said.
Like many countries in southeast Asia, Cambodia has an annual "flood season" starting in August when torrential rains drive the rivers beyond their banks. In 2000, the Mekong Delta countries, including Cambodia, suffered the worst floods in 70 years. When last year's floods hit, WFP provided emergency food aid to some 95,000 people who lost their homes or rice crops.
But since 2001, the country, which is one of the highest disaster-prone countries in southeast Asia, has been first hit by severe drought before the floods arrive, a combination that in some areas of the country knocked out two planting seasons in a row. The majority of small-scale farmers in Cambodia rely on rainfall to water their crops.
A new study by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies shows that the number of people in the Pacific rim region affected by natural disasters increased by 65 times over the past 30 years. The study quotes scientists who predict that the El Nino phenomenon will spawn even more cyclones and droughts.
Hansen noted that among other disaster-mitigation projects WFP plans to support in 2003 are community rice banks and rainwater reservoirs. "It is vital to build these defenses against food shortages in the future," she said. "To ignore the threat of climate change is to gamble with people's lives."
WFP, through the UN Disaster Management team, is collaborating with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) to purchase locally rice, fish and vegetable oil and deliver this to over 10,000 affected families.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
For more information please contact:
Praveen Agrawal, Deputy Country Director,
WFP Cambodia, Tel: +85523-212137/8
Heather Hill, Regional Public Affairs Officer, Asia, Tel: +662-6554115 ext. 2020
Cell: + 661-7019208, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org