1294: A four-digit gift for rural CambodiaPublished: Dec 27, 2019 Reading time: 4 minutes
“For the first time in 50 years, I was alerted before the flood actually arrived, thanks to Early Warning System (EWS) 1294. It alerts us to the disaster in advance, thus giving us enough time to prepare and evacuate to the safe site,” says Noun Vuthy, Chief of Toul Dambang Village.
Noun Vuthy is the head of his family and of Toul Dambang, a small village of approximately 400 inhabitants located along the Mekong River in Cambodia’s Tboung Khmum District. Like many rural communities in Cambodia, the village relies heavily on agricultural production; farming and livestock are the main sources of income for Toul Dambang inhabitants. Unfortunately, due to its location, Toul Dambang has experienced flooding for generations.
With a deep sigh, Vuthy expresses his agony over the devastation that floods have brought to his village year after year. “Floods destroy our crops and sweep away our animals. That means all of our incomes are gone,” he explains. Even worse, hunger looms large as time goes by; often, villagers face food shortages while waiting out the floods at their safe sites. “We have to take a boat ride out to town during the floods to restock supplies, which is very risky considering the strong winds and heavy rain,” he continues. There have also been instances where domesticated animals have died of hunger due to prolonged flooding in the area. “We could easily have avoided most of these losses if we had known when the floods were coming,” he adds.
Expansion of EWS 1294
This year, Vuthy’s village benefited from the expansion of EWS 1294 into Tbuong Khmum province. EWS 1294 was also expanded into the provinces of Kampong Cham and Svay Reang. Thanks to this project led by People In Need Cambodia, with funds from UNDP Cambodia, Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and support from the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), disaster risks have been reduced for the inhabitants of these vulnerable communities. Since the expansion of the system, people in Toul Dambang who have registered for the alerts receive early warnings of incoming floods through their mobile phones. This gives them the time they need to prepare for an evacuation to the nearest safe sites.
EWS 1294 is a mobile-based, user-centered alert tool that keeps people informed of possible natural disasters in their community. When rivers rise, data is sent from the water gauges to the system control center, and a warning message is then disseminated to registered users by the Provincial Committee for Disaster Management (PCDM). Sending alerts to mobile phones is a simple, yet effective, communication channel that can reach locals quickly.
The life-saving call
For people living in Toul Dombang village, the floods came at a very unexpected time this year. While they usually come in August, this year a flash flood hit Toul Dombang in early September, devastating all crops in its path and silencing the entire village as people evacuated to an emergency safe site in the village of Toul Pongrong. “We felt relief and worry at the same time because we couldn’t be certain if and when the flood would hit our village,” recalls Vuthy. Relieved, Vuthy continues to recall what happened: “I received an unexpected call from 1294 that day. I was puzzled at first but then I remembered that it could only mean one thing. Therefore, with no time to waste, other villagers and I took action immediately and evacuated to Toul Angkrong, along with our livestock.”
“EWS 1294 is the greatest gift our village has ever received,” Vuthy adds. “We are grateful beyond words.”
Before EWS 1294, people in Toul Dombang had no access to flood-related information. They moved to the emergency safe site only when the water had almost reached their homes. In other instances, the water level rose so fast that their homes were flooded and their crops submerged overnight. They would then make their way to safer places, usually by boat, but those who could not afford a boat had to wade through the water to drier ground.
The upgraded emergency safe site
In addition to the expansion of EWS 1294 into Tborng Khmum province, PIN has helped initiate infrastructure improvements to multiple emergency safe sites in Cambodia, including Toul Angkrong in Toul Dambang village. The intent is to improve safety and hygiene during evacuation periods. The next time Toul Dambang evacuates, the village’s safe site will be big enough for everyone – it can accommodate about 400 people and has four toilets, including one dedicated to persons with disabilities.
“This year marked the safest evacuation in 20 years. The timeliness of the information and the improved safe sites made our villagers feel safe and at ease. I hope every flood-prone community in Cambodia will have access to this system,” concludes Vuthy.