PHNOM PENH - With an estimated 500,000 rural Cambodians struggling to cope with food shortages caused by a searing drought, the United Nations World Food Programme has started distributions of emergency rice rations to more than 150,000 vulnerable people, many of whom have not seen rain since November.
WFP will distribute about 1,500 metric tons of rice over the next three months to affected families, mainly subsistence farmers, landless people and vulnerable groups including women who are the head of their households, WFP's acting Country Director, Ramaraj Saravanamuttu, said today.
"Food security in rural Cambodia has been deteriorating even after the main rice harvest in December," continued Saravanamuttu. "And when domestic food supplies run out, vulnerable people are obliged to sell their land and cattle, or go further into debt by borrowing money from relatives or money lenders to buy food. This leads them into a poverty trap from which they may never emerge."
The drought, which destroyed an estimated 300,000 metric tons of rice in the December harvest or between 10% and 15% of the total crop, started late last year. In the three months leading up to the harvest, called the "hungry season," WFP distributed some 1,000 metric tons of rice to 50,000 people in the five provinces of Prey Veng, Takeo, Kampong Speu, Kandal and Mondolkiri.
However, the protracted nature of the drought has now required that WFP, working with NGOs and the National Committee on Disaster Management (NCDM), further extend the emergency food distribution to nine provinces. WFP is also monitoring the needs in other provinces.
Recent data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reveal that half of the 24 provinces in Cambodia will fall short of the requirements for domestic rice consumption in 2005. Six out of these provinces will face serious rice shortages of six months or longer.
This year, the extent of the drought and the drop in water levels in the Mekong River have prompted the government to bring in potable water supplies by truck, provide fuel and water pumps and further develop irrigation infrastructure in the most drought-prone areas.
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