Crisis in Cambodia

The people of Cambodia are used to high rainfall during the months of September and October; they rely on the regular downpours to ensure a successful harvest of rice, the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population.

This year, however, the rainfall has been the highest on record for fifty years, and the resulting floodwaters have decimated crops, killed more than 250 people, and left thousands more homeless. Water that normally would just cover the rice paddies rose several metres higher: in some areas just the tops of coconut trees could be seen, and in villages the floodwaters forced people onto their rooftops.

Phnom Penh, on the whole, has not been affected by the floods, but students from HOPE International School (where we work) were moved to action, and gathered and delivered 380 bags of emergency supplies including food, candles, mosquito nets and medical supplies. Thirty-one students, staff and parents filled two old wooden boats and chugged across flooded rice fields for over an hour until they reached a temporary island where the distribution took place. It was wonderful to see the students take seriously the teaching on Micah 6:8 and find a practical way to outwork it.

Ruth and David are Interserve Partners from Australia. They live in a poor Phnom Penh community that endures floods every year, thanks to a nearby lake. Although their home is normally just outside the flood zone, this year they had to wade through knee-deep water to get down their lane. Make-shift plank bridges, cobbled together from flood debris, helped keep them all dry. Ruth writes: “I’m always amazed at people’s resilience. For some the floods meant relocating to family or friends’ homes on higher ground. For others it meant placing bricks under the bed-legs and sleeping in a room submerged in two feet of stinky black water. ” “It’s also a time of revealing those in the community with the least resources. As friends and family pitch together to help each other, it becomes more obvious who the people are without these networks: the elderly widow whfose children aren’t around; the young mother whose husband is in prison; the family who fight all the time andnobody likes. Our local church offered shelter to some of these people. It was inspirational to walk alongside the Christians here who, in amongst moving their own possessions to higher ground, had capacity and concern to visit those they knew were doing it very tough.”

While many organisations have done what they can to deliver emergency supplies to flood-stricken areas, there simply have not been enough resources to help all of the estimated 1.2 million people affected by the floods. The rains are now subsiding but the effects of the floods will continue for many months yet. Incomes have been lost, children who would normally attend school will stay home to help replant the rice crops, water- and mosquito-borne diseases continue to plague poor communities and for many there is no money to pay for medical treatment.

Disasters like this open our eyes, not only to which nations have enough resources to provide aid, but which nations are noticed by the international community (the media covered the floods in neighbouring Thailand, while Cambodia’s suffering went almost unnoticed). We have also realised how few resources this nation has to draw on when it faces a national disaster like this.

Please pray for God’s mercy upon the land and the people, that the land will recover so that crops can be replanted and grow sufficiently to supply food for the next year. And if you would like to offer assistance in any other way, please contact the NZ office.

Dan and Kim (and daughter, Riana) are IS NZ Partners, and have been based in Cambodia since 2008.