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U.N. To Help SE Asian Flood Victims

October 2, 2000

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ The United Nations on Monday issued an appeal for $10.7 million to aid flood victims in Cambodia while a U.N. team assessed the damage from Vietnam’s worst flooding in decades.

Parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos have been devastated by floods along the Mekong River and its tributaries that affect more than 6.5 million people. Vast areas of rice paddies have been destroyed and at least 470 people have died _ 184 in Cambodia, 224 in Vietnam, 47 in Thailand and 15 in Laos.

Meanwhile, in India and Bangladesh, monsoon rains and the unexpected release of waters from manmade reservoirs claimed more than 1,000 lives and left 20 million people either marooned or homeless. U.N. teams also were assessing the destruction there.

The United Nations said the $10.7 million it seeks for Cambodia would assist 850,000 of the most vulnerable flood victims.

``We’ve got to act quickly,″ said Monika Midel, Cambodia director of the U.N.’s World Food Program. ``We’ve got to go out and find the hungry and deliver rice to them.″

According to Cambodian government figures cited by the United Nations, the flooding has effected 2.2 million Cambodians _ about one-fifth of the country’s population. Many flood victims have lost all or most of the year’s primary rice crop.

The aid would help provide food, clean water, rice seed, shelter, medicine and health care over a six-month period. Funds also have been allocated for repairing roads and irrigation and drainage systems.

Peou Samy, secretary-general of the government’s disaster management team, said his committee’s rice stocks have been depleted despite substantial donations by private businessmen.

``Now, we are relying on the U.N. for rice,″ Peou Samy said.

At least one in eight of Cambodia’s estimated 6,400 schools couldn’t open Monday because of flooding, the first day of the academic year, officials said.

In Vietnam, the floods forced more than 700,000 students to stay at home as their new school year started.

The five-member U.N. team, which arrived in Vietnam on Saturday, will spend five days in the three worst-hit provinces, said the team leader, Vladimir Sakharov.

Sakharov said he hopes to have a preliminary report finished by Oct. 12, since ``we have international donors awaiting the results.″

Some 35,000 Vietnamese families have been evacuated while an additional 27,000 still need to be moved to higher ground, said Do Ngoc Thien, deputy director of the Flood and Storm Control Department. More than 700,000 homes have been inundated, he said.

``Evacuation remains our top priority now,″ he said.

Nearly 25,000 soldiers, other security forces and health workers have been dispatched to battle the country’s worst floods in nearly 40 years, he said.

In West Bengal, the hardest hit state in India, relief workers struggled to reach villages using speedboats as floods submerged new areas Sunday and Monday.

``The latest floods can’t be blamed on rains alone. The waters released from the reservoirs of dams combined with rains to cause this havoc,″ R. N. Golder, director of the West Bengal Meteorological Department said.

``The lack of boats compounded miseries of many homeless people. Many lives could have been saved if we had boats available,″ said Ranjit Biswas, a village leader.

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