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Flooding in Cambodia adds to the country’s problems

34 children are among the 97 people who have died over the last month of floods in Cambodia.

The National Disaster Management Committee in the country is reporting that around 90,000 families in total have now been affected in provinces along the Mekong River and Tonle Lake. Over 10,000 families have been evacuated from their homes and 500 school buildings have been closed. There are fears that if heavy rains continue, the Tonle Sap River may overflow and the capital could also be inundated.

Concerns are also being expressed about the loss of rice crops. 163,000 hectares (407,000 acres) of paddy fields lie submerged by the flood waters, in a country where many poor are already struggling with rising food prices. An agricultural official in Cambodia told Alertnet that if rice fields were flooded for more than 10 days, the crop would be ruined. Cambodia usually produces approximately 7 million tonnes of un-milled rice annually. A large amount is shipped to neighbouring Vietnam where it is milled and then re-exported. Losses to agriculture are bound to hit the country at a time when Cambodia’s authorities also have other worries.

In August, the World Bank halted loans to Cambodia’s government over the issue of forced land evictions. Thousands of people have recently been evicted from lakeside land in the country’s capital in order to make way for housing development projects. The authorities have said that an area will be set aside for people who have been moved, but it is unclear whether those evicted will be entitled to any deeds of ownership.

Forced evictions in developing countries are seen as a huge problem by international agencies and organisations. In Cambodia, an estimated 30,000 people are told to leave their homes or farms each year in order to make way for businesses or commercial development, often from Chinese-owned firms. The Cambodian government has promised to introduce reforms, but organisations such as the World Bank have become uneasy that progress on the issue has not been forthcoming. 

In 2010, international donors pledged 1.1 billion dollars in aid to Cambodia, an increase from the 990 million given in 2009. However these sums are dwarfed by the levels of investment going into the country from Chinese businesses, who were planning to spend 8 billion dollars on 360 projects in Cambodia over the first 7 months of 2011. Land ownership in Cambodia is admittedly a tricky area, with many official documents destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and the following civil war. The World Bank offered to assist with land management and administration issues, but a deal for this to take place fell through in 2009.

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