The Cambodian government is scrambling to stop people from drinking rice wine after the number of villagers dead from methanol poisoning reached 23 in Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces and Phnom Penh yesterday.
More than 200 people have fallen ill because of the wine, and government is trying to educate people on how to be careful when making and consuming the alcoholic beverage.
Prime Minister Hun Sen warned the public to be careful with what they eat at a ‘Day of Prayer and Action for Children’ event in Phnom Penh.
“Food and rice wine poisonings have occurred continuously in Kratie province. Please, all people, be careful with food. The food at the market was controlled by health inspector officials, but the villagers will not allow those officials to check the food at their homes, so only they can protect themselves and their families,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“We eat for living, but if we eat for dying [we] do not need to eat. We should be careful and find out where it [food and wine] comes from,” he added.
During his speech, he said some rice wine producers wanted to make more profit, so they put more methanol in the wine to make it stronger.
The prime minister said that authorities can only do so much when it comes to what people ingest, and implored citizens to be responsible for what they eat and drink.
“If each citizen is not responsible for their health or lives and blames only the government, it is not true because if they don’t care about their health and lives, how can we? So please, be careful.”
Sreng Sopheap, the Kratie provincial head of administration, confirmed yesterday that 184 villagers fell ill and 20 died in three districts, Sambor, Snoul and Chetr Borei, from November 19 to December 13.
Mr. Sopheap supported the appeal of the Prime Minister and added that villagers have to be more responsible.
“It is right that all villagers have to be careful with their health. The authorities just advised and educated, but they have to protect their health and lives by themselves,” he said.
This weekend, two more men died and a man fell sick in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima district, police said yesterday. Another person died in a Phnom Penh hopsital.
Kuy Chamreoun, Keo Seima district’s Sre Chhouk commune police chief, said that Phneuch Sver, 43, and Ly Plouth, 43, died one day after drinking rice wine from Kratie province’s Snuol district where a number of people have also fallen ill or died.
“There were many villagers drinking with the victims, but they drank only a little, so they are safe. The three victims drank a lot that made them feel sick and die,” said Mr. Chamreoun.
He said that local authorities went to the village to tell them to stop drinking rice wine, but he was not sure if they listened because they are members of a small ethnic group that is often wary of government intervention.
“We keep following up with their health and spreading information about taking care of their health in relation to drinking rice wine and eating food,” Mr. Chamreoun said.