Cambodian cupboard almost bare again as aid slacks off
Hong Kong — * As many as 9,000 hungry Cambodians a day arrive by oxcart, by bicycle, or on foot at a food distribution point on the Thai-Cambodian border. It is nearly double the number of a month ago.
* Disrupted planting of dry-season rice, which should be harvested next month , means the total Cambodian crop this time will probably fall seriously short of its 110,000-ton goal.
* The coming monsoon rains will compound the problems of transporting international-aid rice to rice-short areas in Cambodia.
* Another 200,000 metric tons of food and 40,000 metric tons of agricultural supplies, including seed and fertilizer, will be needed in Cambodia between February and May to meet the time of greatest need in June, July, and August. Nearly 40,000 metric tons in outside food aid will be needed for each of these months.
These, according to international relief experts, are just a few of the reasons food relief for Cambodia remains an urgent international problem. Despite some evidence that the food situation within Cambodia has improved in recent months, much more needs to be done before the problem can be solved, they say.
"Fund-raising has slacked off terribly since the hostages were taken in Iran, " Johanna Grant of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is quoted as saying. There is concern that the situation in Cambodia may gradually slip from the public eye.
Ironically, this may be happening at the same time that the Heng Samrin government in Phnom Penh gradually improves its cooperation with international agencies. Relief workers back from Cambodia report more government openness -- despite all kinds of transport and communications problems.
Eyewitness evidence observed by journalists and relief workers generally indicates that a severe round of starvation predicted for late 1979 and early 1980 did not materialize. Travelers allowed wide access to the country report little signs of outright starvation though listlessness and malnutrition were sometimes observed.
The international relief effort never really penetrated the Cambodian countryside, one relief workers notes. But it did provide food for government workers and city dwellers, thus making it unnecessary for the government to siphon off scarce rice from already foodshort village dwellers.
Also, the massive food-relief programs operated on the Thai-Cambodian border made it possible to cart relief rice by oxcart and bicycle into the countryside of western Cambodia.
But international relief agencies -- UNICEF, International Committee of the Red Cross, World Food Program, UN Office of High Commissioner for Refugees, and Food and Agriculture Organization -- estimate a total budget of $468.3 million for their October 1979-to-December 1980 operations. But pledges so far leave large amounts still to be raised.
Also the Heng Samrin government's ability to get aid into rural areas is severely limited. Refugees arriving in Thailand from western Cambodia say the rice ration of five pounds per person per month that is handed out by the government is so small that a trek to Thailand for food is the only answer.
The refugees say that in most provinces no dry-season rice crop has been planted, so that little or no harvest can be expected in the next few months.