Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 October 2011
Vincent MacIsaac
Photo by: Vincent Macisaac


Dr Soeung Suen treats children at a makeshift camp in Battambang province’s Sangke district, where more than 1,000 people have been waiting for government aid for about two months.

Medicine arrived at the makeshift camp atop a Khmer Rouge-era dam in eastern Battambang province on Saturday morning, where more than 1,000 people from villages in Sangke district’s Tapong commune say they have been waiting for government aid for more than two months.

It was delivered, for the second time in a week, by volunteers – a doctor and two nurses – and paid for by anonymous donors whose daughter had alerted them to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in rural Cambodia while she was visiting the province this month.

Soeung Suen, a retired paediatrician who worked at the Site 2 refugee camp in Thailand and later at the Angkor Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap, said four of the children he treated had symptoms of cholera. “They have diarrhoea and are vomiting at the same time,” he said.

If emergency aid from the government did not arrive quickly some of the children would die, he added.

The stranded villagers are among the estimated 240,000 people forced from their homes during this year’s flooding.

The latest update by the UN Disaster Management Team in Cambodia said some had begun returning to their villages in the upper Mekong region last week, but water levels were rising in Kampot province.

Although Battambang is not listed among the worst-hit provinces, its eastern districts were submerged when the Tonle Sap Lake expanded in August.

In Sangke district, two more children drowned last Wednesday, villagers said.

The two brothers, aged three and eight, have yet to be added to the national death toll of 247, and relief workers there say the extent of the crisis has been overlooked by the media.

UNICEF has received a mere US$3,186 to distribute plastic sheets, water containers and bars of soap to 300 families in the district, but its zone staff met with the provincial governor to discuss the evacuated villagers’ plight, the situation update said. It mentioned no need for medicine, however.

Soeung Suen said that of the 163 patients he treated on Saturday, diarrhoea and pneumonia were most common among children, followed by parasites, worms, cold, fever and fungal infections. Some worms were large enough that their movements were visible in the children’s stomachs, he said.

Children were also bleeding internally because they had no food in their stomachs, he said, adding that pregnant women were also at risk as they had no access to health centres.

“The health situation is worse than it was in the refugee camps because there is no [constant delivery of] health care,” Soeung Suen  said, adding that the medicine he provided would last only three days.

The families are living under waist-high tarpaulins and clear plastic sheets along the kilometre-long top of the dam, with their cattle, goats, pigs, poultry and pets. The flood stretches to the horizon on both sides of the dung-filled strip of dry land.

Three of Chhay Pov’s six children had dengue fever, she said. She borrowed US$100 from a money lender, at 25 per cent interest a month, to pay a private doctor to treat them.

All three of So Pheap’s three children have had dengue. His wife, Oeun Kor, said they, too, had borrowed from a moneylender to pay for treatment.

Man Loeun sold a pig to buy rice to feed his family. Livestock was selling for half the price it did last year, while the cost of rice had more than doubled, he and other villagers said. “The price of everything we can sell has fallen in half, but the price of everything we need has doubled,” he said.

“We’ve received nothing from the government,”  Chhum Troag, a mother of four, said. “If we don’t get rice, our children will die.”