Floods in Cambodia

Typhoons and unusually heavy rains caused severe flooding in Cambodia for the second year in a row. The Mekong and other major rivers broke their banks, ruining standing crops and washing away people’s houses and belongings. More than 1.7 million people were affected.

One hundred and thirty four people lost their lives, 119,000 were displaced and 244,000 hectares of rice crop were submerged. Financial losses were estimated at US$800m.

The poor were hit hardest. Small-scale subsistence farmers lost their rice harvest – their food supply for the next year. Agricultural day labourers had trouble finding work in the flooded areas.

And rice prices rose, causing extra hardship in the poorest households, who were already spending most of their income on food.

The coming together of ACT members in this emergency provided strength in numbers and a coordinated response. Part of the project involved distributing unconditional cash grants to villagers, equivalent to US$20 each, as well as detergent, water-purification tablets and plastic water-containers.

ACT focused on early recovery and on advocacy, aimed at ensuring the government fulfilled its responsibility to its people. We also supported communities to adapt and to take part in integrated climate-change planning.

Kristen Rasmussen, field director of an ACT member in Cambodia, related the flooding to climate change: “Cambodians are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding. Eighty per cent of the population relies on subsistence crops in rural areas. The overwhelming majority of farmers – about 70 per cent – can only harvest one rice crop per year, and that leaves them extremely vulnerable.”

There is broad recognition that climate-change-related hazards must move up the political agenda, and that lack of finance is a barrier to adapting to climate change.

“There hasn’t been nearly enough progress in finance,” said Nop Polin, a member of the ACT delegation at the 2013 UN climate negotiations in Warsaw. “The developed countries have already pledged, but no money is forthcoming. What they have promised, they must deliver. It is the poor who have paid, and continue to pay, the cost of climate change.”