Is this a portent of things to come?
The Tonlé Sap Lake has always presented us with challenges. The dynamic change in water levels each year has demanded that we maintain a small fleet of boats in order to reach the villages. High water coincides with monsoonal rains and strong winds. Low water means that the staff must very often get out of the boats and push them over the sandbars that form at the mouth of every waterway feeding the Tonlé Sap.
This year we are seeing the impact of both an El Niño weather event and the damming of the Mekong River. Drought conditions began in the spring of 2015, and it is forecasted that the drought will continue through 2016. We have never seen the water level as low as it is now, and it has become essential to bring extra props to each mission in case the boats get stuck in the mud. As a result of both of these natural, and also not so natural, events, we have sadly not been able to use The Taxi (TLC-4) so far this year, and we are currently using smaller boats to reach the clinics.
As the water level falls, the concentration of water hyacinths increases to narrow and block the waterways that connect villages to other villages. Now, some villages are completely cut off, such as Baloth and Komping Traleich, and unfortunately we expect to lose contact with others within the next few weeks.
The photo below shows our clinic in Ksacrchearos village along the Stung Sen River (see map on page 4). For the time being, it is still floating. However, we cannot say for sure how much longer we can expect it to be afloat, as the water level in many areas along the river are as low as 30 cm. It is almost like walking on water.
For more information about the drought and the dams, please see these links:
Al Jazeera – ‘Cambodia’s ‘beating heart’ and climate change disaster’
Open Development Cambodia – various articles here and here
SEA Globe – ‘Cambodia Faces Severe and Prolonged Drought’
A STORY FROM THE RIVER
Thankfully, here at TLC, our staff is positively adapting to the challenging circumstances that they face at their watery (and now, quite muddy) workplace. They keep on doing a wonderful job. We have also been lucky to have some great volunteers come and work with us during these first few months of the year.
There are numerous stories that can be told from these isolated and remote areas. When working so closely with the villagers, we truly get to see, and take part in, both the good times and the bad. We are present and witness their personal and physical developments. Just like elsewhere, there are the stories of the sick who will not seek medical care, of those who will refrain from going to a hospital when they are advised to, those who will find their own ways of dealing with their illnesses. However, we are pleased to see that with our presence on the lake, there is a growing change of mindset, and thus also behavior, moving in a positive direction. Indeed, there are many stories, and some of them are highly worthy of being shared. This is the story of a baby boy who lives in the village connected to the clinic on the photo above.
In late December, a desperate mother, Heang, came to our clinic in Ksacrchearos village along the Stung Sen River (see map below).
Her tiny baby of no more than 7 days suffered from fever and pneumonia, and was c
ritically ill. Our volunteer doctors at the time, Dr. Emily Whitaker and Dr. Bill Duke, and our own Dr. Kuch Kamsan, concluded that the baby would need to be taken to a hospital in order to survive. Despite their best efforts to convince the mother that this was the right thing to do, the mother refused. The only thing we could do at the time was to give paracetamol for the baby, and try to convince the family that he needed to be treated in a hospital. Heang and her husband live six kilometers downstream in the opposite
direction of the provincial hospital. We hoped that they would take their baby there.
When we returned to the River Clinic the next week, the mother didn’t bring the baby back to us for a follow-up visit, as we had requested. TLC’s doctors, including a volunteer, Dr. Jameel (neonatologist), went to the family’s house in the evening. As they arrived, Heang admitted that they had not gone to the hospital. Even more concerning was the fact that the baby’s condition had worsened, albeit he was still alive.
The presence of all these visitors to
an otherwise remote
homestead did not go unnoticed by other villagers. Soon there was a crowd gathered listening to the pleas of TLC’s staff and to the excuses of the mother and father. Sometimes, peer pressure can be a good thing. They finally agreed to go to the hospital. However, upon arrival, the hospital staff in Kompong Thom told them there was no hope for the baby as it was too small and sick. It appeared to have stopped breathing. Heang and her husband travelled back to the village with what they believed to be their dead baby boy.
Miraculously enough, when they came back to the village, the baby started breathing. Immediately, they came to the River Clinic. The antibiotics that the baby had been given by Dr. Jameel were working, and the tiny boy was beginning to look more comfortable. He was severely malnourished, dehydrated, and needed support that could only be provided in a hospital. This time, the family readily agreed to our suggestions. Ultimately, we took the mother and her baby to the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, where they would spend three days.
Ever since, this little baby boy, has been one of the top priorities of the River Team. Every week, his height and weight is measured, and we give him a full medical check-up. Heang has struggled to breastfeed him, and they could not afford infant formula. TLC has therefore been supplying formula, and has also been educating the family about preparing the milk and cleaning the baby bottles hygienically, in order to support his first few months. Moreover, we brought the family clothing which had been kindly donated to us.
For each time the River Team sees him, he looks healthier and happier. This is noticeably reflected in his mother. The photo above was taken on April 6th, and the change from December is quite remarkable. Needless to say, we are very proud that this little boy has survived and is now doing so well. That is what keeps us going!
KEY STATISTICS JANUARY – MARCH – INFOGRAPHICS
STATISTICS JANUARY – MARCH 2016 – TABLE
|Adult Men||Adult Women||Children < 14 y||TOTAL|
|Health Promotion and Education||318||958||725||2001|
|Home Care Visit||8||4||12|
|Visual Acuity and School Check-up||164||164|