By Kate Roux, IFRC and Josselin Leon, French Red Cross
The Mekong River Basin lies at the heart of Southeast Asia, and serves as a vital resource to over 70 million people in the region. But in 2011, heavy rains in Cambodia caused the river to overflow to dangerous levels, affecting 18 of the country’s 24 provinces, and leaving 1.2 million people in need of assistance.
The worst flooding to hit the country in over a decade, families in rural areas were hit hardest. Already precarious conditions worsened, livelihoods were destroyed, and access to food quickly became a major concern.
One of those affected in Kampong Thom province is Y Pann, a 59-year-old mother of ten from Porphlouk Village. She said that as the waters rose, she faced losing all her belongings. “My 20 pigs, chickens, cows and buffaloes drowned, or died from diseases,” she says. Y Pann was pregnant when the floods hit.
“I have three girls and seven boys. We faced many difficulties during the floods. There was no food for my children, and they all became sick. I got sick too.”
The Cambodian Red Cross, with support of the French Red Cross began the immediate distribution of relief to nearly 2,000 families. This was followed by the launch of a one-year project, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), which focuses on building the resilience of communities likely to be hit by future floods. The programme includes improving access to sources of food and livelihoods, as well as education on the importance of clean water and good hygiene. It has already made a difference in many lives.
As the programme nears its first anniversary, Red Cross activities also include the distribution of ceramic water filters, water pumps, rice seeds, and education on techniques for resilient rice-cultivation and wetland planting, as well as multi-purpose farming. Loeung Chhengleam, a grade 6 student at Samproach Primary school, said it was small changes that made a big difference. “I do not have pain in my stomach anymore since I have access to filtered water. I am now healthy,” she says.
The challenge for Y Pann – as for many people living in this region – is to be ready for the floods that are certain to come in the future. “I am now prepared,” she says. “I have stocked rice, fish and seasoning powder, so that I do not have to go through these difficulties again.”