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Monday, September 26, 2011

Floods kill 158 in Thailand, 61 in Cambodia

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The death toll from flooding in Thailand since mid-July has risen to 158, while 61 people have died in neighbouring Cambodia in the past two weeks, authorities in the two countries said on Monday.

More than 2 million acres of farmland in Thailand are now under water, an area 11 times the size of Singapore.

"Twenty-three provinces in the lower north and central Thailand are under water and nearly 2 million people have been affected by severe floods and heavy rain," Thailand's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said.

Flooding has also affected the capital, Bangkok, which sits only two metres above sea level. The Chao Phraya river has overflowed into roads in some areas, although the authorities have reinforced its banks to prevent serious flooding.

The Meteorological Department warned 39 provinces, mostly in central and northeast Thailand, to be ready for possible flooding and heavy rain in the coming week.

Thailand's main rice crop of the year is normally harvested from October. According to media reports, some farmers have started harvesting early to try to get their crop in before floods hit, which could result in lower yields.

Some may be unable to harvest properly because fields are inundated.

Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter. It is forecast to produce 25.1 million tonnes of unmilled rice in the main crop, up from 24 million last year.

Its monsoon season usually runs from August to October.

After a teleconference with governors in flood-hit areas, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said 40 billion baht ($1.2 billion) was expected to be used in long-term projects for flood prevention, but she gave no detail of the projects.

In Cambodia, Keo Vy, deputy information director of the National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), said the death toll in provinces along the Mekong River and Tonle Lake was likely to rise once provincial authorities submitted new reports.

"The worry now is about a lack of food, and the health of people and animals," Keo Vy said, adding that 163,000 hectares (407,000 acres) of rice paddies and 63,000 homes were under water.

NDMC Vice-President Nhim Vanda said flooding in August had already damaged rice paddies around the country.

"The damage is now double," Nhim Vanda said. "We are worried that the water will go down slowly, which will destroy rice that is already planted."

Cambodia produces around 7 million tonnes of unmilled rice a year at the moment. Very little of it is directly exported. A great deal goes over the border to Vietnam to be milled and re-exported.

(Reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok and Prak Chan Thul in Cambodia; Editing by Alan Raybould)
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Emergency Session Held Over Ongoing Flooding

Prime Minister Hun Sen called an urgent cabinet meeting on Monday, gathering senior officials and provincial leaders to deal with ongoing flooding that has killed at least 60 people and inundated tens of thousands of homes.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters outside the meeting at the Council of Ministers that the government was trying to ensure that famine did not follow the flooding, which have continued since August.

Provincial governors have been ordered to stay in the countryside to deal with the problem, he said, as efforts are being coordinated between local authorities and the Cambodian Red Cross.

Flooding has affected 90,000 families across 14 provinces, killing at least 34 children and destroying some 200 homes, the National Committee for Disaster Management said Monday.

Khieu Kanharith said that no foreign assistance was being sought currently, but he appealed for volunteers. Other priorities are to make sure rice and other agricultural production can begin in earnest when the water levels recede and that post-flooding diseases are mitigated.
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Many in Electorate Don’t Understand System: Monitors

“We must prepare a fair election system to provide the possibility for people to have full rights in registration and voting rights.”
 
An election worker calls votes off a ballot as election observers look on through a window, (file photo).
A high number of Cambodian voters do not understand the electoral process, while others distrust the electoral system, observers say, as registration for next year’s local elections continue.

In forums conducted last year in three provinces and the capital, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights found a high number of people were not convinced elections ensured equal participation and were wary of the National Election Committee.

Cambodia is preparing for commune elections in 2012 and national parliamentary elections the year after.

Kuoy Bunroeun, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the election process is difficult for many Cambodians, while the National Election Committee has not done enough to inform the electorate.

“We must prepare a fair election system to provide the possibility for people to have full rights in registration and voting rights,” he said.

With 460,000 of 470,000 potential new voters registered, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said Monday that people seem to understand the process.

“New eligible voters always go to register, because of their understanding,” he said. “And more importantly, people in new resettlements are going to register. It means that they know their rights and roles in participating in the elections and the democratic process.”

However, Hang Puthea, executive director for the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the National Election Committee must strengthen its work until the public can accept the committee’s management of the process.

“In relation to the knowledge of elections, Cambodians still need more training,” he said. “That means people will not clearly understand the election process, and they still have a distrust of the election system.”
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