Cambodians complain of lockdown hunger as Covid-19 outbreak takes toll on poor

Villagers stand behind a lockdown barrier to ask for food donations in Phnom Penh, on April 30, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - Residents in Cambodia's capital gathered on Friday (April 30) to demand food from the government, outraged at what they called inadequate aid distribution during a tough Covid-19 lockdown that bars people from leaving their homes.

The authorities put Phnom Penh and a nearby town under a hard lockdown on April 19 to quell a surge in coronavirus infections that has seen Cambodia's case total balloon from about 500 to 12,641 since late February, including all 91 of its deaths.

"People in my village haven't received a food donation yet. It has been 10 days," factory worker Oum Sreykhouch, 25, told Reuters by telephone from the city's Meanchey district, where about 100 people protested for a second day.

Though private food deliveries are operating, markets and street food services are closed, making it difficult for poorer families to get supplies, with many without income because of the stay-home order.

The government has asked residents to apply for food aid.

Some families in Meanchey district said they had just received a package of 25kg of rice, a case of instant noodles and canned fish.

Others were still waiting.

"We registered for food donation a long time ago," said factory worker Net Channy, 31. "I couldn't afford to buy. That's why I come to ask for food."

Amnesty International on Friday called Cambodia's lockdown an emerging humanitarian and human rights crisis, with nearly 294,000 people in Phnom Penh at risk of going hungry.

"The Cambodian government's outrageous mishandling of this Covid-19 lockdown is causing untold suffering and sweeping human rights violations," Ms Yamini Mishra, its Asia-Pacific regional director, said in a statement.

"The Cambodian government can, and must, take decisive steps to mitigate this disaster," Ms Mishra said, adding United Nations agencies should do everything to secure permission to deliver aid.

Cambodia is one of Asia's poorest countries, with household incomes reliant heavily on tourism and garment manufacturing, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said protesters' complaints were exaggerated.

"I've heard a lot about this information. It is just drama," he said. "Anyone who needs food, please do tell us. But they haven't."

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