Sunday, October 30, 2011

Birthday of King Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia

King Sihanouk of Cambodia
King Father Norodom Sihanouk on the occasion of his 90th birthday celebration, Chanchhaya Pavilion, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Today (October 30,) the occasion of King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s 90th birthday and the 20-year anniversary of his return to Cambodia was marked with a public celebration in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. All of Cambodia’s most important dignitaries were in attendance as well as thousands of well-wishers including students, police, military and citizens. King Father Sihanouk’s actual birthday is October 31, 1922 and the day of his return to Cambodia November 14, 1991, but October 30 was apparently close enough. In fact, when Sihanouk was King his birthday was held over a 3 day period, from October 30-November 1.

The celebration this morning was festive in appearance, if a bit formal in atmosphere. I arrived early, around 6:30, walking up Street 240 into the Palace area with a stream of hundreds of students on their way to the event. Students, scouts, police and military in their formal best filled the park in front of the Palace opposite the Chanchhaya Pavilion. Citizens lined the roads, many holding flags, flowers and photos of the Kings. Almost no foreigners were present in the crowd. I counted less than 15 in all, including journalists. Too busy sleeping off their authentic Cambodian experience from the Saturday night before, I guess. I managed to get to the very front of the crowd with the TV crews, but it was still quite a ways to the side. I had hoped to get closer for the purpose of photography, but was kept back by security. Over time we (the photog crowd) did manage to work our way another 10 meters closer using the journo shuffle, but that was as much as security would tolerate. It pushed the edge of what I could do with my 200mm lens.

As dignitaries arrived, announcements were made and a high school band in the park played various songs both Cambodian and western, including, somewhat incongruently in the blazing sun, Jingle Bells…’in a one horse open sleigh.’ Dignitaries of lesser importance filled the uncovered seating at the face of the Pavilion and slowly baked in the direct morning sun. King Sihamoni, King Father Sihanouk, Queen Mother Monique, Prince Ranariddh, Prince Chakrapong, Prime Minister Hun Sen, H.E. Sar Kheng and other high royal and government officials were seated in the covered balcony facing the crowd that filled the park across the road.

Once all were assembled there were announcements and music. A troupe of traditional Cambodian dancers performed, and from what I could see though my telephoto, much to the delight of King Father Sihanouk. The dance complete, His Excellency Sar Kheng (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior) came out to the facing podium and made a short address of well wishes to the King Father. After H.E. Sar Kheng, Prime Minister Hun Sen took to facing podium to address the King Father, making a speech that seemed to last at least 20 minutes. The children in the crowd began to grow restless in the increasingly hot sun. They tittered amongst themselves and ooo’d and ahh’d at a flock of pigeons that circled overhead and swooped occasionally toward the crowd. The Prime Minster finished, the King Father sampeahed him profusely as he returned toward the Pavilion.

Then King Father Sihanouk stood to address the crowd. His son the King and Queen Mother occasionally braced him as he stood and sampeahed to the people and those around him. His voice was weak and difficult to hear, but he showed great stamina, speaking for at least as long as the Prime Minister. The adults in the crowd focused their attention on his words. The children continued to shuffle restlessly about. It was difficult to catch his words, but he seemed in good humor, spoke much of Cambodian unity, ribbed that his wife says that he speaks too much, and from what those around me repeated, he promised to remain in Cambodia. There was occasional applause and seeming general appreciation of what he was saying.

His speech complete, the crowd cheered genuinely. There seemed nothing forced or formal about it. Balloons were released from the park and floated appropriately toward and over the Palace. And so it all finished, quite abruptly. The VIPs from the balcony disappeared through a back entrance in very short order and the baked dignitaries from the exposed seating dashed from their chairs seeking cover from the sun in their luxury vehicles parked at the edges of the event area. Military officers and police lingered, taking pictures of one another with the festooned Palace as a background. Also well cooked, I wandered up the riverfront in search of an air-conditioned restaurant and bowl of kui-teo, which I found only a couple of hundred meters away.

Crowd at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Waiting crowds

Apsara dancers at birthday celebration for King Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Apsara dancers with a side of baked VIP

H.E. Sar Kheng addresses King Sihanouk at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
H.E. Sar Kheng addresses King Father Sihanouk

King Sihanouk of Cambodia
King Father Sihanouk addresses the People

King Sihanouk of Cambodia
Son and Father. King Norodom Sihamoni and King Father Sihanouk

King Sihamoni, King Sihanouk and Queen Monique, Phnom Penh,  Cambodia
King Norodom Sihamoni, King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk Monique

King Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia
King Father Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen

Cambodian boy scouts
Boy Scouts

Cambodian girl scouts
Girl Scouts

Cambodian high school band at birthday celebration for King Sihanouk
High school band

Brahmins at birthday celebration of King Sihanouk of Cambodia
Brahmins

Honor Guard at birthday celebration of King Sihanouk of Cambodia
Honor Guard

Balloons over the Chanchhaya Pavilion at birthday celebration of King Sihanouk of Cambodia
Balloons over the Chanchhaya Pavilion

Officers lining the road for the passing procession of dignitaries.

More officers line the road

Military Police

Wat Ounalom on the riverfront, festooned for King Father Sihanouk's birthday

Sign in front of National Museum commemorating King Father Sihanouk's 90th birthday and 20-year anniversary of his return to Cambodia. Note that 2011-1922=90 (not 89.) I'd say 'only in Cambodia' except that this is how the math of age works in several Southeast Asian countries. Unlike western countries, people are born 1 and the counting begins from there. 90 in Cambodia is the equivalent of 89 in the west.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brief Cambodia Flood Update

Phnom Penh riverfront, 10/29
Final UPDATE, October 29 - There is no flooding in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap city, Battambang city, Sihanoukville, Kampot city or Kep. There is no imminent threat of flooding in any of these cities. The river levels in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang continue to fall. Here in Phnom Penh, in my casual observation, it is falling at a rate of 10-15cm per day. The river level has dropped below alarm stage all along the Mekong River and Tonle Sap River in Cambodia and continues to fall. All National Routes are clear of water and buses and taxis are running normally. There is still some flooding lingering in the countryside but it is slowly subsiding. From what I read in the papers, parts of Thailand and Bangkok are facing significant flooding problems, but that is completely unrelated to the flooding situation in Cambodia. In my inexpert opinion, the flooding threat to all major Cambodian cities has passed for the season. Unless there is some change for the worse in the situation, this is my final update on the flooding in Cambodia.
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Phnom Penh riverfront, 10/26
UPDATE, October 26 - A very quick update. The drying trend continues in the major cities. There is no flooding in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. The same goes for Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep. As of today, Siem Reap is drier than it was two days ago when I posted that almost all the flooding had receded from the city. All businesses are open. All Angkor temples are open. There is no flooding in Phnom Penh. The river level in Phnom Penh continues to fall and, in my casual observation, has dropped at least 20cm in the last two days. According to the MRC website, the river level at the Phnom Penh Port station is now below alarm level for the first time since September. All national routes throughout the country are clear of water and buses and taxis are running between all major cities as normal. Much of the countryside is still inundated, and as mentioned before, there has been major crop loss, loss of life and property damage. See below for some of the projects bringing relief to flood victims in the countryside. There seems to be a growing trend on internet over the last couple of days of posting and/or retweeting old information and sometimes downright misleading information about the flooding, presumably out of inattention, ignorance or a desire to jack up their web stats. When looking at information regarding the flooding in Cambodia, especially in the cities, make sure that it is up-to-date.
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Phnom Penh riverfront, 10/24
UPDATE, October 24 - There is no flooding left in Siem Reap town. Though there are some muddy roads and puddled areas, the town is, for most intents and purposes, dry. All businesses, restaurants, shops, bars, etc. are open. All Angkor temples are open. There is no flooding in Phnom Penh or threat of flooding in Phnom Penh. The river level (Tonle Sap) in Phnom Penh continues to fall. When I did my regular riverfront water level check this afternoon, that level had dropped low enough that I could see the third step for the first time in a month. The MRC website shows the water level of the Mekong River continuing to fall all along the river. The water level at the Phnom Penh Port has dropped to near MRC 'Alarm Level' for the first time since late September. The flooding in the countryside is still draining, albeit very slowly. In an informal conversation today, a government official told me that though there may be concerts, parties and such put on by businesses, there are no official Water Festival events scheduled for Phnom Penh this year.
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 Phnom Penh river level comparison

As of earlier this afternoon (Oct 22):

There is no flooding in Phnom Penh. Well, there is some lingering flooding at the northern and southern outskirts of the city, but none in Phnom Penh proper. In fact there hasn’t been any significant or unusual flooding in Phnom Penh at any point during the Cambodian flooding crisis. I check the river level at the Phnom Penh riverfront every day, looking at the exactly same spot to see if the water level has changed. In my casual, inexpert observation, give or take a few centimeters the river has been at about the same level for a few weeks now. Today the river was down 5-10cm from yesterday. That is the single largest 24-hour drop in the water level I have seen in weeks. The MRC website also shows either stable or falling water levels all along the Mekong in Cambodia.

Water Level depth chart for Phnom Penh Port
(near central Phnom Penh) from the MRC.

I called around to a few friends that live in Siem Reap today and all report the same – the flooding has largely receded from Siem Reap town. Most roads in town, including the Old Market area, Pub Street, all of the shopping areas and even the river road and traffic circle south of the Old Market area are flood-free. All shops, restaurants, bars and markets are open for business. And, to the best I have been able to determine, all of the Angkor temples are available to visit. There is still some water on the road from Siem Reap to the Lake and on High School Road, but both are reportedly passable. There has been damage to many of the roads, but all are passable. Travelfish posted an entry yesterday with up-to-date, first hand information on the state of flooding in Siem Reap.Travelfish has also posted an entry on some of the local organizations and projects helping to bring aid to the affected communities around Siem Reap.

According to taxi drivers and friends I spoke with today, all of the National Routes are free of flooding, including – from Phnom Penh - NR1 to Vietnam, NR 3 to Kampot/Kep, NR4 to Sihanoukville, NR5 to Battambang, NR6 to Siem Reap, Road48 (from NR4 to Koh Kong) and NR3 (Kampot to NR4). I don’t have any information about NR2 to Takeo or NR7 north. All the National Routes have suffered road damage to varying degrees, but all are passable.

I don’t have much information on the situation in the countryside beside what I see in the newspapers, but from what I've read it sounds like things have changed very little. Much of the countryside is still flooded and draining very slowly. There has been huge property damage and crop loss and many people are in a desperate way. See my October 18 post for more information and links.

Whether the flood waters return or continue to fall depends largely on the weather. But at the moment things look to be stable in the countryside and improving in the cities.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Children Are Not Tourist Attractions

Tourists, listen up...

Today, Friends-International launched its new 'Children Are Not Tourist Attractions' campaign, including the article below, a new website and an ad campaign with banners on tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh, all to raise awareness about the orphanage tourism game and related child exploitation and voluntourism issues. The goal is to put an end to orphanage tourism in Cambodia. Such a campaign is long-overdue and sorely needed. The article and website are brilliant. I've been railing about this issue for years and it is very near and dear to my heart. (I only wish I could have been so eloquent as Friend-International has been in their website and article.) I wish them the greatest success in this endeavor. Please read, learn and heed their advice.

Photo by Friends-International from the


When Children Become Tourist Attractions

Posted on 20 October 2011, by Friends-International

Each year, thousands of tourists visit orphanages in Cambodia thinking they are helping some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Recent reports however have found their visits may be doing more harm than good.

Nearing midnight on Pub Street, Siem Reap is buzzing. Hundreds, if not thousands of tourists roam from bar to bar, looking for a good time after spending full days wandering through Cambodia’s spectacular Angkor Wat temples.

Beggars follow the travelers around, while other locals sell flowers, fake travel guides and postcards to unassuming customers. Through the mayhem, a small team of professional junior entrepreneurs make their way down the street pitching a different product to the hordes – a visit to a nearby orphanage...Continue reading here

Learn more at the Friends-International CHILDREN ARE NOT TOURIST ATTRACTIONS website.

Please, do not engage in orphanage tourism.

(If I may indulge briefly in a bit of selfish told-you-so righteous gloating...as I mentioned above, I have been on about the orphanage issue for the better part of a decade and the child beggar/vendor issue for a lot longer than that. As an old white male expat, I have been accused of being jaded, heartless, a cynical old expat and much, much worse, because of my views on this matter - all while the name-callers bought flowers from 8-year-old vendors in the bar in the middle of the night, doled out dollar bills to glue sniffing kids on the street and told teary-eyed stories of the orphanage at which they voluntoured [for a price] washing dishes and playing with the children. Tourists, most often young and more often than not female, with big hearts and very little thought, all knew so much more than this old male expat with 25 years in Asia under his belt. I am thrilled to see this long-established, trustworthy, highly credible organization saying basically the same thing, though of course in a more affable, organized, less curmudgeonly way. Maybe now people will listen.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cambodia Flooding - Update

(See Brief Cambodia Flood Update above for the latest info.)

Southeast Asia has seen some of the heaviest monsoon season related flooding in many years. So far Thailand and Cambodia have been particularly hard hit. Though I only know of Thailand what I read in the papers, I have witnessed some of the flooding here in Cambodia first hand and have also been able to gather first hand reports in real time from trusted sources in some locations around the country.

Cambodia's Annual Floods

Monsoon season flooding is a normal occurrence in Cambodia. It happens every year between July and November as the Mekong and other rivers swell with run-off from the mountains to the north and monsoons drop copious amounts of rain over the whole region. Much of Cambodia is a floodplain and is inundated on an annual basis. This is one of the reasons why traditional Cambodian houses are built on stilts. The floods replenish the land and make possible the rice crops that are the country’s staple food.

This year has been unusual. Too much rain and over swollen rivers in many parts of the country have brought some of the worst flooding in a decade to Cambodia – covering a much wider area, more deeply and for a longer period than a normal year. The result has been disastrous in the countryside - extensive property damage, crop loss and deaths of almost 250 people. Perhaps the most apparent manifestation of the flooding to tourists has been the repeated flooding of Siem Reap City, the gateway to the temples of Angkor. The city has flooded 4 or 5 times in the past 5 weeks (depending how you count,) affecting businesses, making it difficult to move around town and cutting off a couple of the Angkor temples (not Angkor Wat) from visitors.

A summary of the current situation:

The situation in the countryside

The flooding situation in the countryside is severe and it is difficult to overstate the desperate plight of the people affected. Most of the countryside is populated by poor subsistence farmers that depend on their rice crops to survive. They have little or no safety net and the government response has been slow, weak and uncoordinated, though is now reportedly improving. In many areas water stretches to the horizon, the rice crops completely submerged. To date there is flooding across 17 of Cambodia's 24 provinces; 247 people have died; 34,000 households have been evacuated; 390,000 hectares of rice paddies had been inundated destroying as much as 200,000 hectares of the crops (approaching 10 percent of the total harvest.) Many people are stranded and quickly running short of food. There will also likely be future food shortages in the countryside as a result of this flood. Government organizations, relief organizations such as the Cambodian Red Cross and several NGO and volunteer groups are working to bring relief to those affected. As of today (Oct 18) the USA, China and Singapore have sent some aid but the Cambodian government has yet to request international assistance.

More info:

Travelfish: Amid floods, Siem Reap needs your help
The Green Gecko Project: Cambodia is flooding... the kids ask "what can we do?"
Phnom Penh Post:  Aid arrives but floods slow to recede
Phnom Penh Post: Floods not yet an ‘emergency’
IRIN: CAMBODIA: Worries about long-term flood fallout 
VOA: Aid Arrives for Flood-Swamped Thailand, Cambodia
ABC: Cambodia floodwaters yet to recede
Phnom Penh Post: Flow of Flood Aid Speeds Up

The current situation in Siem Reap

Siem Reap, Cambodia, flood map
Siem Reap town has flooded 4 or 5 times in the past 5 weeks. Some have likened it to a yo-yo. It tends to flood in the same areas of town (see map) each time, ankle to knee deep. The town flooded for the third time a little more than a week ago, started to dry out then flooded again about 4 days ago. Day before yesterday the water was as deep as it has ever been. Most of the shops in the Old Market area were closed at the time. But as of today (Oct 18,) the flood has begun to recede again, reportedly rather quickly.

As of 4PM this afternoon (Oct 18) Pub Street had about 5cm of water on it, the Old Market area and parts of Sivutha Blvd about 10cm, the roundabout south of the Market area (always one of the deepest area) about 30cm, parts of Wat Bo Road 10-15cm, and parts of the river road north of Route 6 on the east side of the about 10-15cm. Most of the rest of the main part of town was dry. Pub Street, and most all of the shops, bars and restaurants in the Old Market area are open for business. Tuk-tuks and motodups are easily able to move around most of the town. All of the Angkor temples on the main circuits (except perhaps Neak Pean) are open.  The flood waters continue to recede rapidly, and as the end of the rainy season is nearing, Siem Reap residents are hoping that this will be the last of it. Time will tell.

(UPDATE, October 19 - Friends in Siem Reap tell me that the flood waters continue to recede from town very quickly. Many of the previously flooded areas, including Pub Street and much of the Old Market area are now dry or almost dry. Flooding lingers on High School Road and the area around the roundabout south of the Old Market area.)

I visited Siem Reap City and the temples of Angkor for a week during the second flood in late September. While I do not want to diminish the losses being suffered in the countryside right now, or the difficulties and financial losses to the businesses in Siem Reap, I must say that it was the most fun and adventure I have had in Siem Reap in years. Yes, it was inconvenient getting around, but I simply took a second pair of shoes, resigned myself to wet feet and plodded on through the floods, sometimes by tuk-tuk, sometimes by foot. (Though you need to be careful of potholes hidden by the water and it probably isn’t wise to cycle around at night for the same reason.) Even at the worst of it, all but one of the Angkor temples were available, there were still plenty of bars and restaurants open in town, I got lots of great photos and I can say that “I was there for the great flood of 2011.” If I were a tourist on my way to Siem Reap now, I’d consider this an opportunity for a unique adventure, not a glitch in my holiday. The shops, hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap that have been hurt by the flooding could sure use the business right now, and you may even be able to find some legitimate volunteer opportunities helping with flood relief. 

The current situation in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh riverfront, Cambodia, water level, Oct 18 2011
Phnom Penh riverside, Oct 18
There is no flooding in Phnom Penh proper and hasn’t been at any time during this year’s flood crisis. There is some flooding at the northern outskirts of the city, but these are areas that tourists and visitors rarely go. There has been and may still be flooding of some streets after heavy rains, but this is the norm in Phnom Penh every rainy season and it drains off within a matter of hours.

There has been a video making the internet rounds for the last few weeks entitled ‘Flooding in Phnom Penh.’ Note that the video is 3 weeks old at this point and is also of flooding on streets that flood every time there is a heavy rain, every monsoon season . It does not represent flooding in the same sense that has occurred in Siem Reap City and the countryside.

The Tonle Sap River through Phnom Penh is unusually high - about a meter above normal for this time of year,* a bit above ‘Alarm Level,’ but a meter below ‘Flood Level.’** The water level has been generally stable over the past two weeks, rising and falling by a couple of centimeters every few days. There is no immediate threat of flooding in the city and the MRC is currently not predicting any flooding in the city. Still, it is wise to keep abreast of the current situation through reliable sources such as the MRC website and the Phnom Penh Post.

* Lower Mekong Hydrologic Yearbook 1997
** Mekong River Commission Flood Forecast page (Oct 18)

Water Level depth chart for Phnom Penh Port 
(near central Phnom Penh) from the MRC.

video
Phnom Penh riverfront/Tonle Sap River, October 17, 2011, about 4PM. The river has reversed (about 3 weeks ago,) now flowing southeast at a goodly clip. Note the floating plants moving downriver with the current, and how at the river's edge they move back against the main current revealing potentially dangerous eddies and whirlpools.

The Water Festival

Water Festival, Phnom Penh, 2007
On October 13 the government announced that the boat races at the annual Water Festival (Nov 9, 10, 11) had been cancelled due to the floods. The Water Festival is one of the biggest holidays of the Cambodian year, celebrating the reversing of the current in the Tonle Sap River and centered around colorful boat races in Phnom Penh and some other areas of the country. The reasons given for the cancellation were: 1) to save money that could be spent on flood relief; 2) because the river was dangerously high and fast; 3) and because these weeks are ordinarily the time the boat racers from the countryside, who are currently preoccupied with the floods in their respective areas, are preparing for the races.  In my opinion, this reasoning is quite sound, especially the latter point. People from the countryside are dealing with the immediate concerns of lost crops and on-going flooding and they simply do not have the time to get ready for the races. It would be unfair, unsafe and unsportsmanlike to hold the races under these conditions. And in my observation, the news of the cancellation and the reasoning behind it also seems to have been well received in the countryside, especially that the moneys saved from the races would be used for flood relief.

The initial announcement of the cancellation through the AKP on October 13 was entitled ‘Water Festival Cancelled’ but in the body of the article it stated that there would be “no boat racing this year, but other festivals are celebrated as usual.” Several media outlets picked up the story, emphasizing that the Water Festival had been cancelled but downplaying or overlooking the details regarding the boat races vs. other Water Festival events. The Phnom Penh Post went as far as to state that “the annual three-day Water Festival celebrations next month, including the renowned boat races, would be cancelled.” The Cambodia Daily was more circumspect in its reporting stating the ‘Water Festival Races Cancelled Due to Floods,’ and further that concerts, related events and street vending would continue as usual. In a later article (‘Plans Continue for Next Month’s Water Festival,’ Oct 15-16,) the Cambodia Daily stated that city officials were continuing in their preparations to receive festival goers in Phnom Penh on the scheduled Water Festival dates.

Other tourist cities

Battambang, Stung Treng and Kratie have all experienced flooding. Kampot City, Sihanoukville and Kep have not seen any significant flooding. This is a bit of a change as, in previous years, Kampot City has been in one of the first cities to flood.

When will it end?

Of course it is impossible to say for sure. It depends in large part on the weather. Though the flood waters have receded from Siem Reap town fairly quickly after each flood, usually in just a few of days, the water has been very slow to recede from the countryside, now lingering more than a month. Heavy rains could worsen the situation. Nevertheless, the end of the monsoon season is nearing, usually trailing off by the beginning of November, and the historical average end of the flood season is the latter part of November, with the worst of it ending well before that. At best, it could be ending now. At worst, it may continue for another couple of weeks.

Comparison to the flood of 2000

The current flooding has been called 'the worst in a decade.'  This is a reference to the flooding of 2000, which was of similar scope in Cambodia. Here are some stats on the flooding of 2000 and the flooding of 2011 to date.

2000 stats:
Crops lost: 421,568 hectares
Dead: 347 persons
Houses: 7086
Schools: 6620
Roads: N/A
Bridges: 1856 km
Culverts: 17 sites
Dams: 397 sites
Flood damage: US$161,000,000

Source: Mekong River Commission Report 2008, Appendix 2

2011 stats (to date):
Crops lost: ~230,000 hectares (updated Oct 20. Source: Cambodia Daily, Floodwaters Expected to Continue Wreaking Havoc, Oct 20, 2011)
Dead: 247 persons
Houses: N/A
Schools: ~1000
Roads: ~2400km
Bridges: N/A
Culverts: N/A
Dams: N/A
Flood damage: N/A

Source: IRIN: CAMBODIA: Worries about long-term flood fallout

Water level at Phnom Penh Port, comparison chart by year including 2000. This year the water level took longer to crest the Alarm Stage than in 2000, but it lingering above the Alarm Stage longer than in 2000. A similar pattern can be seen at other measuring stations as well. From the MRC website.

History of annual flooding on the Mekong River, Chang Saen to Kratie, 1960-2008. 
From, MRC: Annual Mekong Flood Report 2008. (Click to enlarge)

Politics

A couple of thoughts on politics:

1. Opposition parties (read: SRP) have sometimes accused the Cambodian government of unequal distribution of relief aid during disasters such as this. During the National Elections, opposition parties have said that villages and communes that are known to have voted for the opposition in National Elections receive little or no disaster relief. For anybody interested, now would be an ideal time to test that theory and document the results. Get out a map of the 2003 election results, travel to areas that voted for the opposition and see if they are receiving aid. Don't wait until next month, next year or 2013 to collect anecdotal stories.  

2. In the face of this growing disaster, the Cambodian government has yet to request international aid. On October 13 Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said, “We do not request international aid because everyone has their own problems…It would be very difficult for us to request their help. For the time being donations and any charity are really appreciated.”* This echoes a similar sentiment reportedly expressed by Foreign Minister Namhong that “Cambodia needs no foreign help…but welcomes and foreign help.”** I wonder about the motivation behind this reluctance to request foreign aid. Could it be because in the recent past foreign aid has repeatedly been held over the Cambodian government’s head by the (western) international community to pressure the RGC into changing its ways, specifically in the cases of Boeung Kak Lake evictions and the pending NGO Law? Perhaps the RGC doesn't want to give the international community any more ammunition that may be used against them at a later date.

* Phnom Penh Post, Water Festival Canceled, October 14, 2011
** Cambodia Daily, Coordination of Flood Aid Questioned, October 5, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Siem Reap flooding again

I am not in Siem Reap at the moment and have no first hand knowledge of the current flooding situation, but people keep sending me emails asking about it so I thought I'd pass on what little I know and a few links to forums, bloggers and tweeters that are there and have posted recent info regarding the current flooding in Siem Reap town.

News is that Siem Reap town is flooding again - 3rd time in the last month. Apparently, like before, the river through town began overflowing yesterday afternoon and has continued today. According to friends up there, as of a few hours ago, the flooding is in pretty much the same areas as last week (see my post of September 26 Siem Reap Flooding - Trip Report) but so far not as deep or extensive. The situation is likely evolving as I write.

Links:

'Only in Cambodia' blog has just (Oct 10) posted photos and information about the current flooding: Water, Water Everywhere "OK. So We're going through our 3rd flood in Siem Reap where the river has over flown its banks and spilled into the streets turning them into extended tributaries. From morning to afternoon, the river rose and spilled over so that you couldn't see its banks..." Click the link to read more.

On Twitter:

Rosy Guesthouse, located on the east side of the river in the center of town also sometimes tweets about the flooding: Rosy Guesthouse

Canby Publications does a pretty good job of collecting and retweeting information about the flooding: Canby_Cambodia

Journey's Within Boutique Hotel is located in Siem Reap and is tweeting a bit about the flooding as well: JWBoutiqueHotel

Forums:

TripAdvisor has a running thread on its travel forum where people have been posting up-to-date information on the flooding in Siem Reap town. Make sure to check out the end of the thread for the latest info: Flooding in Siem Reap

Other:

Mekong River Commission situation report. Current flooding situation and forecast for areas along the Mekong River through Southeast Asia. Information on Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities along the Mekong, but no info on Siem Reap: Mekong River Commission

Article in today's Phnom Penh Post on the flooding situation in Cambodia in general, not specifically about Siem Reap: Death toll rises; risk at riverbanks

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Siem Reap Not Flooding - Trip Report 2

Tep Vong Street, Siem Reap
When I arrived in Siem Reap a week ago Sunday, much of the town was knee deep in water, affected by the flooding that has swept the country over the past few weeks. (See Siem Reap Flooding - Trip Report.) As I left Siem Reap for Phnom Penh early this afternoon, the majority of the in-town flooding had subsided, mostly over the last 3 days. Though much lower, some flooding remained - south of the Old Market area, along short sections of Sivutha Blvd, along stretches of the river road on the east side of the river (Achar Sva Street) and in parts of the Wat Bo area, but all seemed to be draining fairly quickly. The north end of town was completely free of flooding, as was the north end of the Wat Bo area, most of Sivutha Blvd, the Taphul Village area and the Old French Quarter, all of Pub Street and most of the Old Market shopping district. There was still an inch or two of water on the streets around the Old Market itself but the market was open for business as were all of the businesses on Pub Street and most other shops and restaurants in the area.

This was the second time in as many weeks that Siem Reap town has flooded, but as I left the town today, it was quickly returning to normal. Whether the flooding returns will depend on the weather.

I drove from Siem Reap back to Phnom Penh following the same route I came - National Route 6 through Kampong Thom to Skun, then Route 6A through northern Kandal province and on into Phnom Penh. The road was completely dry and easily passable the entire length of the trip. Short sections of road had been damaged by the flooding, but not severely. I saw several Phnom Penh-Siem Reap tourist buses heading both directions.

The flooding in the countryside visible from the road between Siem Reap and Skun had gone down noticeably as compared to a week ago, exposing vast green rice paddies. There was still considerable flooding in the countryside south of Skun along Route 6A in northern Kandal province and the rivers in that area were still overflowing and moving fast and hard. The worst of it that I could see was in the area of Prek Kdam where the road nears and parallels the Mekong River. But even there, water that had been lapping at the road's edge last week had pulled back a couple of meters or more from the road and the possibility of water over the road seemed less of a threat than last week.

One oddity I noticed in the trip was that every countryside school grounds and most medical clinics that I could see from the road were still at least ankle deep in water, even in areas where most of the flooding had receded. I am not sure why except that it would seem schools and clinics are constructed on low ground.

For up-to-date information on Mekong River levels and flooding threats along the Mekong see the Mekong River Commission - Information Resource page



Siem Reap Map courtesy of Canby Publications