Chea Chamroeun is village chief of the Banteay Neang commune in the Mongkul Borei District, located within Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey Province. Since 2015, when she participated in a workshop organised by People In Need (PIN) on Early Warning System (EWS) 1294 – a phone-based warning system for disasters – Chamroeun has been helping her community prepare for the worst. Chamroeun says: “It’s a great tool, and the registration was simple and straightforward, so it was easy for me to share it with the members of my commune. I think about 30 people registered with the system after I told them about it.”
The intent of EWS 1294 is to provide advanced warning of natural hazards such as floods and typhoons. It also recently helped raise awareness about COVID-19 in Cambodia. The system sends mobile phone alerts to registered users and also circulates information via the EWS1294 Facebook page.
Banteay Meanchey Province is located in the northwest of Cambodia, far from both the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River, which causes seasonal flooding every year. Thanks to its location, Banteay Meanchey is rarely affected by these annual floods. However, in October of this year, 14 provinces, including Banteay Meanchey, were affected by flash flooding. Houses, agricultural land, and infrastructure, including roads, schools, and health centres, were inundated. Leam La, a staff member of Banteay Meanchey’s Provincial Committee for Disaster Management, reports that “Banteay Meanchey Province was one of the most affected provinces, second only to Battambang. Approximately 192,240 people were affected, of which 4,567 were displaced. 28 people lost their lives, including five children.”
We were surprised but prepared
Several hours before the flash flood, Chamroeun was alerted to the impending disaster by EWS 1294. “I received a call from EWS 1294 the morning before the water made its way to my village. It was unexpected because the last time we experienced flooding was eight years ago, in 2012”, she recalls. Although the alert caught her by surprise, Chamroeun remained calm, acted quickly to inform her villagers of the unexpected event, and immediately moved her disabled son to higher ground.
Five hours later, the flash flood wreaked havoc on the commune, destroying approximately 194 hectares of rice fields and crops; damaging 200 houses. “I was glad to receive the timely warning from 1294. As a commune chief, it allowed me to disseminate information to the villagers more quickly than before and to prepare for evacuation. The early warning made a big difference, especially for my disabled son,” says Chamroeun. Although, the flood greatly impacted their livelihoods, no lives were lost at Banteay Neang Commune.
Since 2013, PIN has been working closely with its partners and various levels of government in Cambodia, to strengthen climate information and early warning systems. The continuous development of EWS 1294 is led by PIN, with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and UNDP Cambodia. The programme was also previously funded by the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the World Food Programme and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, with support from the National Committee for Disaster Management.
Sotheavuth Choun, PIN Cambodia Communication Officer