Vietnam villagers face hunger amid floods
Thuong Village, Vietnam (AFP) Oct 9, 2007
It is hard to tell where the river ends and the rice fields start. This Vietnamese village is under muddy water that reeks with the stench of dead animals.
The worst floods in decades that followed last week's typhoon have left hundreds of homes submerged in the brown overflow of the Hoang Long river. Families are forced to cower on higher floors and rooftops, surviving on the little water and food they have. Hunger is their enemy.
Vietnam has deployed 34,000 soldiers to distribute instant noodles, drinking water and other emergency supplies by helicopter and boat in the aftermath of Typhoon Lekima -- but none of it has yet arrived, desperate locals say.
"My house has been flooded," said Dao Thi Tra, 75, crying. "I haven't received any relief aid. I've been eating corn, sweet potatoes and the rice that we stored before the floods. Now we are out of food."
The nearby house of Do Thanh Hung, 52, has become an island, accessible only by boat or makeshift raft. His family has salvaged a TV, household utensils and a bamboo sleeping mat to the upper floor, their temporary new home.
The family altar could not be saved and is submerged, along with heavy furniture, under more than one metre (three feet) of filthy water that has debris and the rotting remains of dead chicken and rats floating in it.
"My village has 136 households, or about 585 people," Hung told AFP. "None of us has received any aid yet -- food, medicine, anything.
"Over the past few days, we have lived on instant noodles that we bought before the flood. We've cooked the noodles using the flood water. We tried our best to make it clean... Many people here are hungry."
At least 59 people have died in northern and central Vietnam, and 14 remained listed missing Tuesday, since the year's fifth major storm barrelled across the South China Sea and hit the country last week.
The floods that followed have broken river dykes and completely destroyed 6,000 homes, also inundating over 120,000 houses and leaving more than 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of crops under water, authorities say.
An emergency assessment team for Oxfam, several UN agencies, the Red Cross and other organisations will travel into the worst-hit provinces later this week, said an aid official in Hanoi.
Here in Thuong and surrounding villages in Ninh Binh province, 3,900 hectares of rice paddy have been lost, destroying the autumn harvest, said Nguyen Cong Bang, deputy head of the Gia Vien district office.
"People's daily lives and food production have been put on hold," he said, adding that 15,000 people in the district's worst-hit areas were affected by the flood, the heaviest here in at least 20 years.
Lieutenant Colonel Tran Van Minh, head of the district rescue force, said each person could receive 10 packs of noodles and biscuits, and each family 31,000 dong (1.9 dollars), a litre of fuel oil and a container of water.
The challenge, he said, was delivering the aid.
"We cannot move anywhere," he told AFP. "It will take at least one month for the situation to get back to normal."
In Thuong village, a local official yelled through a loudspeaker that any family with a boat could go to the people's committee office to pick up their noodles. But many residents said they had no bamboo canoes or rafts.
"The flood took us completely by surprise," said Ha Tien Minh, chairman of the Gia Minh commune's people's committee. "The water rose so quickly, much faster than in past years.
"The water has been here for days now, but we don't have enough boats to deliver the noodles, the food and the water to the victims. I think the starvation threat has become more urgent."
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