Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos Take Stock of Destruction as Region Braces For New Tropical Storm

At least 111 people have now been killed in flooding and landslides in central provinces of Vietnam following heavy rains from Oct. 6 to 19, and further deaths are feared as waters continue to rise in rivers in Quang Binh province ahead of a coming tropical storm, sources in the country say. Highways in the provinces have also been severely damaged, with the total cost of repairs estimated at around VND 355 billion, state media said, citing figures provided by the Directorate of Roads of Vietnam on Oct. 21. Also on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung and deputies of Vietnam’s National Assembly welcomed efforts by Vietnamese pop star Thuy Tien to collect more than VND 100 billion (U.S. $15,316,811) for relief work in flood-hit Quang Tri, Quang Binh, and Thua Thien Hue. Large-scale fundraising is normally restricted by law to state organizations or social associations to reduce the risk of personal gain, with penalties prescribed for violations. But National Assembly deputy Le Thanh Vanh voiced confidence in the work of Thuy Tien and her staff. “They are ready to take responsibility before the sponsors who donated the funds,” Vanh said, quoted on Oct. 21 in state media reports. “I am sure they will be completely transparent,” he said. Relief teams have poured for the last few days into central regions hit by floods and landslides that have destroyed roads and buried workers at a hydropower plant and soldiers at a military barracks, Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung told state media on Wednesday. Many areas have already received help, while others remain cut off because of damaged roads, Dung said, calling on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to send more teams to reach remote areas and give further support to those already helped. 34 now killed in Cambodia Relief work meanwhile continues in Cambodia, where 34 people have now been killed by floods to date, with Prime Minister Hun Sen urging local authorities to guard damaged homes to prevent looting and calling on banks and other lending institutions to delay or reduce payments owed to them by villagers impoverished by the coronavirus pandemic. “COVID-19 has hit us hard for the last 10 months, and now we are facing floods that are destroying us,” Hun Sen said. “We have not concluded our damage assessments yet. For now, we are just working to rescue people and take them to safer areas,” he said. Around 10,000 families have already been safely evacuated from flood-hit areas, Cambodian media sources say. Speaking to RFA, National Committee for Disaster Management spokesperson Khun Sokha said that flood waters are now receding in several provinces, including Oddor Meanchey, Pursat, Takeo, Pailin, Kampong Speu, Stung Treng, and the two hardest-hit provinces of Banteay Meahchey and Battambang. The 34 flood deaths reported so far reflect the inability of central government and local authorities to deal effectively with the disaster, said Kean Ponlok, secretary general of the Cambodia Intellectual Students Alliance. “The authorities must look into the causes of these deaths and hold themselves responsible,” he said, adding that because of corruption in Cambodia, he is not convinced that all donations handed over to the government will be spent on victims of the floods. Banteay Meanchey villager Nay Thoeun said she has now lost her home and job because of the floods and is debt after borrowing money from a bank to buy medicine to treat the tuberculosis to which she was exposed in her family. “I am very worried. I’m living now under a shelter on a hill, but the water is still rising here, and I’m afraid of [venomous insects].” “I’m urgently calling for aid to be delivered to this hill. There are many poor families here,” she said. Flood begins to recede in Laos In Laos, flood waters have begun to recede from eight districts in Savannakhet province, where 125 villages containing 5,134 families, or nearly 30,000 people, have been affected, Lao media sources say. In the province’s Sepon district alone, 40 villages containing nearly a thousand households have been flooded, with many houses completely destroyed, sources said. Sepon’s La Or and Vang Khot villages were hardest hit, with 44 houses swept away, and another 90 dwellings hit by fast-running floods and partly damaged, a district official said on Oct. 21. “The district is still asking for help, but we will set up temporary refuges in the villages for people to live in,” the official said, adding that funds are being sought for building materials such as roofs and nails for the construction of temporary shelters. Fast-rising water hit one village on Oct. 18 and swept away 28 or 29 houses, leaving nothing to come back to when villagers returned two days later, one villager said. “Now we have no place to stay in but the schools, and no one has any clothing. We are waiting to see how the authorities plan to handle this.” “We are all in a very poor condition. We have no rice to eat, and all our rice fields are flooded. We will have to buy all the rice that we eat next year,” he said. “The water is receding now, but the villagers’ houses are damaged beyond repair, and nothing can be restored. There is no thought of fixing them now,” a rescue team member said, adding that many residents of Sepon and other districts are still cut off because of damage to the roads. Though Lao authorities had moved quickly to help victims of the floods, more help is needed, an NGO official said, asking that neither he nor his organization be named. “For a start, we urgently need dry food and drinking water, clothes, rice, and many other things, as so many houses have been swept away.” “The authorities did go down to do everything they could, but there are just too many villagers to help,” he said. Many residents in areas of Sepon and Phin districts are still out of reach, a Sepon district official said. “We are still unable to get to almost half of the areas affected by the floods because the roads have been cut off by landslides,” he said. Losses in Savannakhet including houses damaged, livestock drowned, and paddy fields destroyed are still being calculated, the official Vientiane Times said on Oct. 21. Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao Service. Translated by Huy Le, Samean Yun, and Manichanh Phimphachanh. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Death Toll From Floods Climbs in Vietnam, While Victims Plead For Aid in Cambodia, Laos

The death toll from flooding and landslides in Vietnam continued to rise Tuesday, while those hit by the disasters triggered by tropical storms in the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos criticized government inaction and made urgent appeals for assistance. In Vietnam, at least 104 people are dead in the country’s central region, with 49, 27, and 11 deaths reported in the provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, and Quang Nam alone, according to the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster and Control. Twenty-seven people are missing, including 15 workers from a hydropower plant in Quang Tri that was hit by a landslide on Oct. 12. The committee said that some 90,000 residents of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, and Quang Tri provinces have been evacuated to higher ground. Nearly 7,000 hectares of rice paddy and crop fields have been submerged, while more than 5,800 head of cattle and 685,000 poultry birds have been killed or carried away in floods. Vietnamese state media on Tuesday reported that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved the allocation of 100 billion Vietnamese dong (U.S. $4.3 million) and 1,000 tons of rice to the five worst flood-hit provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, and Ha Tinh. Meanwhile, the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre said a tropical depression in the Philippines has strengthened into what is being called Storm Saudel. Over the next 24 hours, Saudel is expected to enter the South China Sea—called the East Sea in Vietnam—and become the eighth storm to batter Vietnam’s central provinces since the start of the rainy season. Tran Quang Nang, head of the weather forecasting department under the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre, rejected reports circulating on Facebook, allegedly citing Japanese forecasters, that Saudel is a super typhoon. “All of these predictions about Typhoon Saudel are baseless and fake,” Nang said. “The Japanese weather forecasting center and other countries have said no such thing.” Nang called on the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control to “punish” those responsible for spreading inaccurate information on social networks, causing public confusion. “This issue should be handled promptly to ensure people only access accurate information released by the authorities so they can respond to natural disasters, helping to mitigate the damage they cause,” he said. Nang’s admonishing of social media users did little to assuage the fear Workers salvage clothes from a factory through floodwaters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Oct. 18, 2020. AFP ‘Worse than war’ In Cambodia, the death toll remained at 25 from a day earlier, with some 40,000 evacuated to temporary shelters, National Committee for Disaster Management spokesperson Khun Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service. More than 200,000 hectares of paddy field and nearly 80,000 farms have also been destroyed, with more than 500 school buildings and 79 garment factories damaged. Roads, hospitals, and dams have also been affected, authorities said. In a notice issued on Tuesday, the Poipet Administration of Banteay Meanchey province, along Cambodia’s border with Thailand, temporarily closed portions of National Road 5. Downtown Poipet saw flooding of homes and roads, which the notice attributed to rains in Thailand. Sann Ratha, a resident of Kaun Damrei village, in Poipet’s Sangkat Nimith district, told RFA that water levels increased so rapidly that several hundred families were forced to leave their homes. He said people are stranded and in desperate need of food and other supplies. “We are under the attack from the flood—our village looks like a river now with water everywhere and houses submerged,” he said. “The current situation is worse than during the [1967-1975] civil war. We need the authorities to help us immediately.” On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen traveled to affected areas visiting with victims and handing out food. He said in a post to his Facebook page that he plans to spend two days in hard-hit Banteay Meanchey province, where 13 of the country’s 25 deaths have occurred and an estimated 20,000 families have been affected. Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha is also traveling to Banteay Meanchey to provide assistance. Din Puthy, head of the Poipet-based Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, expressed skepticism over the government’s handling of the flooding Tuesday. He voiced concerns that authorities appear to prefer taking selfies with small numbers of villagers and posting them on social media to pretend they are helping the victims. “The victims are not receiving equal treatment,” he said. “Only a few people have received some assistance while many others have been left behind.” More aid needed In Laos, where storms have ravaged Savannakhet province in the country’s center, authorities remained unable to access many areas due to damaged roads and a lack of boats to transport aid and other supplies, Lao sources said. More than 125 villages in eight districts have now been flooded, with many houses and over 10,000 hectares of paddy fields submerged, official sources in the province say. Nearly 30,000 people have been impacted in Savannakhet, according to official count. An official from Savannakhet’s inundated Phin district told RFA Tuesday that people are in need of dry goods, drinking water, medicine, and other necessities. The official said that while most aid had been distributed it still is not enough. “In Phin district, 45 villages are heavily flooded, but they have received some help already—they mostly need sticky rice and consumer goods,” he said. He said villagers with boats had been using them to help one another and that there have been no accidents during rescue and supply operations. A villager in Phin told RFA that the water level is so high that the local river had flooded homes along its banks and urged authorities to provide more assistance. “They have helped a little, but it’s very difficult for us,” he said. “Higher-level authorities should take care of this. We’re asking for more rice—all houses need rice to eat.” Authorities in Savannakhet’s Xonbury district said waters remain high and will rise in days to come, forcing villagers to stay in clubs, schools, and other places set up by the local government as temporary shelters until flooding recedes. According to the Meteorology Department at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Laos will continue to endure heavy rains and strong winds throughout the country in coming days. It urged villagers to remain vigilant for flash floods and landslides. Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese and Khmer Services. Translated by Huy Le and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Scores Dead as Floods, Heavy Rains Hammer Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos

Floods, landslides, and other natural disasters triggered by downpours in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam have left scores dead, with paddy fields and rice stocks destroyed, and thousands displaced from their homes in a region hard hit by COVID-19 and its economic fallout, officials and state media said Monday.In Vietnam, at least 90 are dead and 34 missing, with thousands of households evacuated from flooded areas to safer ground, state media and other sources say.Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces have been hardest hit, with 41 deaths, 18 missing, and 27 deaths, 15 missing, respectively, Vietnam’s Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster and Control said on Oct. 19.In Thua Thien Hue, nearly 40 thousand households have been evacuated, with some 121,700 dwellings reported still under water.“At present, we are safe, but thousands of local households have remained without power for three days, and at first we couldn’t contact anyone for help,” a resident of Quang Tri’s Cam Lo district told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Sunday after he and his family were rescued by boat.“Now, we are holding up with instant noodles until the waters go down again,” he said.News of a release of water from a local dam due to flooding never reached local residents, who were already cut off from outside contact, the source said, adding that his home was now submerged to a depth of two meters.“[The authorities] said on Facebook that they were going to discharge water from the dam, but because our area was already isolated, we never got that news, and the flood hit us at midnight. We had no chance to get away,” he said.A source named Thao in Quang Tri’s capital city Dong Ha confirmed that power outages had prevented residents in low-lying residential areas from learning that large quantities of water would be released from dam reservoirs.“They announced this on Facebook, but no one in our area was connected to the internet, so we never heard anything about it,” she said, adding that rescue teams had arrived at her home at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday to take her and her children to a safer place.Landslides on Oct. 12 and 18 also buried 17 workers and 13 members of a rescue team at the Rao Trang 3 Hydropower Plant in Thua Thien Hue province and 22 soldiers and officers at a military barracks in Quang Tri’s Hung Hoa province, sources said.The bodies of the missing soldiers were recovered on Oct. 19, but searches continue for 15 of the 17 workers buried at the Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant.More rain is expected to hit central areas of the country in coming days as a tropical storm forms in the South China Sea, called the East Sea in Vietnam, off the coast of the Philippines, with continued high risk of floods and landslides that have already damaged highways and roads, media sources say.Villagers cut off in LaosIn Laos, storms have ravaged Savannakhet province in the country’s center, with authorities unable to access many areas due to damaged roads and not enough boats available to transport aid and other supplies, Lao sources said.More than 100 villages in eight districts have now been flooded, with many houses and over 10,000 hectares of paddy fields submerged, official sources in the province say.Heavy rains due to tropical storms along with an overflow of the Xe Ranong No. 1 Dam upstream were to blame for the devastation in Phin, a district agriculture and forestry official told RFA, saying that 35 villages in the district have been affected by floods.“Around 502 hectares of paddy rice has also been flooded,” the official said, adding, “Things are hard, but we will have to endure.”“People who live close by will get rice and dry goods more quickly than those who live far away.”In Phin district’s Apia village alone, 184 people in 32 families have been affected, with rising waters destroying rice fields, food stores, and villagers’ homes, a village official told RFA on Monday.“[Some] houses have been damaged beyond repair, and the rice that the government gave us during the last flood is now almost gone,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.“A store of rice reserves with 50 sacks of sticky rice has been destroyed in this flood,” another villager confirmed, adding that he had been able to move livestock and other family valuables to high ground before the flood hit, but that clothes, utensils, and other household goods had been washed away.“Our rice in the fields was almost ripe and was ready to be harvested soon, but the rain and floods destroyed it all. We are going to be hungry here next year,” he said.District officials say that authorities have too few boats now to move people from flooded areas or to transport supplies to villagers cut off by the flood or by roads damaged or cut off by fallen trees. Phin district authorities are now working with the neighboring district of Champhone to convey dry goods, medicines, clothes, and gasoline for boats to those in need, sources said.Thousands evacuated in CambodiaFloods in Cambodia have meanwhile killed at least 25 and seen 40,000 evacuated to temporary shelters, Cambodian national disaster management authorities said. More than 200,000 hectares of paddy field and nearly 80,000 farms have also been destroyed, with more than 500 school buildings and 79 garment factories damaged.Roads, hospitals, and dams have also been affected, authorities said.Cambodians in debt to banks or other lenders have been especially hard hit, with many left unable to work and make monthly payments to their creditors,“I don’t know what to do,” said one villager from Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongol Borey district named Sareourm. “We don’t have enough rice to eat, even though we got a small amount of food aid on Oct. 18.”Sareourn said he wants his creditor, a microfinance institution, to delay demands for payment until the flood waters recede, allowing him to look for a job.“I can’t look for work now because I’m taking care of my grandchildren, and I can’t leave them behind because the flood is now up to the ground floor of my house. If my creditor doesn’t agree, I will have no choice but to sell off my house and land to pay my debt,” he said.“I’m having real difficulties now,” added a villager from Battambang province named Chun Ry, who said that he can’t earn enough money now to pay back a loan from a microfinance company that helped him buy a small home and a motorbike to start a taxi service.“Now, people are commuting to the markets and other places mainly by boat, though.”“I park my bike on higher ground where I earn only about 20,000 riel [U.S. $5] per day, and half of this goes for gasoline. So it’s hard even to earn a living, not to mention paying back my loan,” he said, adding that he hopes the government can work with his creditor to cancel his payments for at least one or two months.Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian Services. Translated by Huy Le, Sidney Khotpanya, and Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Pompeo Says Chinese Companies Follow Predatory Practices in Mekong Region

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said China’s state-owned companies engage in predatory business practices in the Mekong River region and the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for much of the boom in trafficking of persons, drugs and wildlife there. The new U.S.-Mekong Partnership launched Friday will help combat these transnational crimes and will strengthen water security for partner countries where China’s manipulation of the river has exacerbated a drought, he said. The U.S. is “concerned about infrastructure-linked debt and the predatory and opaque business practices of Beijing’s state-owned actors, such as China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC),” Pompeo said in a statement. Last month, a senior State Department official also named CCCC when he said upstream damming pursued by Beijing in the Mekong River has been done in “a completely nontransparent and non-consultative way.” “And there is a – actually a specific CCCC angle to the Mekong environmental concern story given CCCC’s role in would-be Chinese plans to blast and dredge the Mekong River, which could have potentially catastrophic effects on the downstream communities, the scores of millions of people whose livelihoods rely on the Mekong,” the official who was not named said during a special briefing. On Monday, Pompeo also said companies and groups associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are linked to human and narcotics trafficking in the Mekong region. His statement did not provide evidence to support the allegation. “Concerning also is the boom in trafficking of persons, drugs and wildlife, much of which emanates from organizations, companies and special economic zones linked to the CCP.” Pompeo also said the CCP is withholding Mekong water, adding downstream countries must hold it accountable by asking it to share water data through the Mekong River Commission. “The CCP’s unilateral decisions to withhold water upstream have exacerbated an historic drought,” he said. “We encourage countries of the Mekong region to hold the CCP accountable to its pledge to share its water data.  That data should be public.  It should be released year-round.  It should include water and water-related data, as well as land use, and dam construction and operation data.” U.S. pledges $154 million to Mekong region Countries of the Mekong – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – “deserve good partners,” Pompeo said. The U.S. has pledged a total of $156.4 million for a host of initiatives under the U.S.-Mekong Partnership. These include $52 million to support COVID-19 recovery, $55 million to counter transnational crime, $33 million to develop energy markets under Asia EDGE (Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy), $6.6 million to improving energy infrastructure and markets in the Mekong region, and $2 million to counter trafficking in persons. These initiatives were announced Friday at the first U.S.-Mekong Partnership Ministerial Meeting held to launch the partnership. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun was the U.S. representative at the virtual meeting. “The United States is committed to supporting the resilience and autonomy of countries in the Mekong region and will work with all partners who share our principled, transparent approach,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement after the meeting. Pompeo said on Monday that the U.S. will also work closely “with partners like Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, and other good friends of the Mekong.” The partnership’s launch Friday coincided with last week’s series of meetings at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial summit. Pompeo on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia and ASEAN and accused China of “aggression” in the South China Sea. “We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation,” Pompeo said in a statement released during the summit. On Monday, Pompeo said the U.S.-Mekong Partnership “is an integral part of our Indo-Pacific vision and our strategic partnership with ASEAN.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Pompeo Again Slams Chinese ‘Aggression,’ Says US Is Committed to SE Asia

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia and accused China of “aggression” in the South China Sea and manipulating the flow of the Mekong River in a time of drought. Touting U.S. investment in the region and support for the COVID-19 response of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pompeo said Washington will speak out in the face of China’s “threats to sovereign nations’ ability to make free choices.” “We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation,” Pompeo said in a statement released during a summit of top ASEAN diplomats held online this week and hosted by Vietnam. The top U.S. diplomat accused China of exacerbating the drought in nations downstream on the Mekong River. “We stand for transparency and respect in the Mekong region, where the CCP [Chinese Communist party] has abetted arms and narcotics trafficking and unilaterally manipulated upstream dams, exacerbating an historic drought,” Pompeo said. His statement did not provide evidence to support the allegation of the CCP aiding weapons and drugs smuggling. Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have been grappling with variable water flow on the Mekong that supports the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. While poor rains have caused the drought, environmentalists say dams that China has constructed on the upper reaches of the river have worsened the situation. Rising tensions Pompeo’s rhetoric underscores the rapid deterioration in U.S.-China relations on a raft of issues in recent months, including trade, the status of Hong Kong, the plight of Uyghur Muslims and China’s assertion of “historic rights” to most of the disputed South China Sea. On Thursday, Pompeo had urged Southeast Asian countries to reconsider business deals with the 24 Chinese companies that Washington sanctioned last month for their roles in constructing Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. In recent years, Beijing has undertaken major reclamation of disputed land features in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. ASEAN nations Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have territorial claims in the South China Sea and seek to use resources in areas that China claims for itself. Beijing further claims parts of that sea overlapping the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia, the largest ASEAN member. For its part, Beijing this week accused the U.S. of interference in the region’s affairs. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the U.S. the “biggest driver of militarization of the South China Sea,” Chinese media reported. “The United States is becoming the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea,” Wang said at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Southeast Asian nations are uneasy about being caught in the war of words between the U.S. and China. In the ASEAN joint communique made public on Thursday, the bloc, which operates by consensus, expressed concern over increased tensions in the South China Sea and called for resolution of disputes in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. A day before that, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that the group’s countries did not want to “get caught up in the rivalry between major powers.” Vietnam, too, said on Wednesday that the dispute threatens regional stability and that countries should settle the acrimonious row by adhering to international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. While Friday’s toughly worded statement from the U.S. was issued by Pompeo, the State Department public schedule showed that his deputy, Stephen Biegun, was the leading U.S. delegate at the ASEAN virtual meetings that day. Pompeo was traveling to the Middle East to attend the opening of Afghan peace talks. The ASEAN summit ends Saturday after the ASEAN Regional Forum on peace and security.  The 27-member forum includes 10 ASEAN states, India, Japan, China, the U.S., Russia and the European Union. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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