Margareta Wahlström visits community leaders in Prey Veng Town, Prey Veng Province in Cambodia (Photo: Jerry Velasquez)
PHNOM PENH, 23 April 2012
- At the start of a week-long trip to Cambodia, the UN's senior official for disaster risk reduction, Margareta Wahlström, met yesterday with a 64-year-old grandmother who saved the lives of her five grandchildren during last year's heavy monsoon rains.
Khut Yoy was looking after her five grandchildren in Yout village in Prey Veng Province on the east bank of the Mekong river, when the river burst its banks in the middle of the night as they were all sleeping.
"When I woke up the water had already reached the floor. I then woke up my grandchildren and jumped out of the house and ran to look for a safe place. Our house was under the water during the flood, the water was so high," she said.
She fled with her grandchildren to the safety of her brother's house built on stilts across the street. The Yoy family home, a simple house made of palm leaves and bamboo, eventually collapsed five days after the floods hit the village.
The entire family is dependent on the $3 a day income which Khut Roy's divorced daughter, Khorn, earns as a laborer when she works away from home in Kampong Cham while leaving her children in the care of her mother.
The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction spent most of the day getting a first-hand insight into the challenging living conditions of Cambodia's rural poor and listening to stories of how last year's floods took away lives, destroyed homes and community assets.
Ms. Wahlström was pleased to hear that thanks to her quick-witted action, Khut Yoy managed to save the lives of her grandchildren including the youngest aged five years when so many children lost their lives in the floods.
"A major concern I have during this visit is to find out why so many children lost their lives in last years floods. In Prey Veng Province alone it is reported that 34 children lost their lives mostly by drowning. Some died when boats capsized, some while riding cattle on flooded pot-holed roads when they fell into the water and others died while playing in ponds.
"It is a clear example of why we need to spread greater awareness of the Children's Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction. We need to educate children about risk through the school curriculum, involve them in community preparedness and to teach them basic life-saving skills such as swimming."
She noted that socio-economic conditions in the province also contributed to people's vulnerability, 53% live below the poverty line. In Yout village, sanitation and safe water coverage are low, only 28 out of 422 households have a toilet, so open defecation is common. UNICEF provided some of the villages with ceramic water filters and water purification sachets.
Ms. Wahlström met today with senior government representatives including Nhim Vanda, the Senior Minister and First Vice Chairman of the National Committee for Disaster Management; Mok Mareth, the Minister of Environment; Hou Taing Eng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Planning; Lim Kean, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology and Kheng Samvada, the Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs. The focus of the discussions was on how risk reduction can be integrated into development programmes and strengthening coordination on disaster risk management.