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‘Disaster Death Toll Low, Cost Devastating’

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
Children use a makeshift raft to move through a flooded village in Kandal province in 2013. Reuters/Samrang Pring

Cambodia has sustained far fewer deaths due to natural disasters than any other country in the region this year, deputy secretary general of the National Committee for Disaster Management Ross Sovann said on Friday, at a workshop coinciding with Asean Day of Disaster Management.

Mr. Sovann, who also chairs the Asean Committee for Disaster Management, said about 100 people die each year from natural disasters in Cambodia. Many more are killed in road accidents, he added. 

“Most of the victims [of natural disasters] are children,” Mr. Sovann said. “They are careless during disasters because their parents are busy with work.” 

Although the number of deaths was low, the economic impact of natural disasters can be devastating, Mr. Sovann said. 

“If we talk about the effect on living and the family economy, the suffering can be very serious,” Mr. Sovann said. “It is because famers mostly depend on nature and poor irrigation systems make it difficult to be agriculturally productive.”

Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, said 89 people died in natural disasters during the first nine months of this year. That figure may not rise much higher because the rainy season is ending and the risk of flooding is subsiding, he said.  

Mr. Vy said most of the damage from natural disasters occurred in the north and northwestern provinces, where residents faced lighting, wind storms and floods. 

Mr. Vy said the government’s understanding of natural disasters and how to deal with them has improved greatly. Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 forced the country to reexamine disaster management systems and work directly with local villages to help them after storms. 

Compared to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, Cambodia rarely faces the kind of destructive storms that require international help, Mr. Vy said. Cambodia has never had to ask the Asean Committee on Disaster Management for help since its creation, Mr. Sovann said. 

His assessment is more upbeat than others.  According to the United Nation’s World Risk Report 2014, Cambodia is the ninth most disaster-vulnerable country in the world. This is compounded by developmental issues here, the report says. 

Last year alone, 165,516 people were affected by floods and 49 lives were lost. While death totals were low compared to other Asean nations, the extensive damage done to thousands of hectares of agricultural land, animals, infrastructure and the livelihoods of economically disadvantaged people represents a troubling sign for the future as weather patterns become more unpredictable and powerful, the report says.

Responding to climate change will cost the country $1.2 billion between 2014 and 2018, according to an estimate from the Ministry of Environment.

More than 2,000 participants from across Asean are expected to attend a two-day forum on disaster management later this week in Phnom Penh, officials said. Called “Asean is Resilient,” the forum will be held at the Royal University of Phnom Penh on Thursday and Friday, they said.

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