The beleaguered city of Phnom Penh is suffering not only from Communist shelling but also from serious inflation and food shortages.
The beleaguered city of Phnom Penh is suffering not only from Communist shelling but also from serious inflation and food shortages. Although the city is not strictly under siege in the military sense of the word, the communist forces have succeeded, to a large extent, in disrupting the city's regular flow of food and supplies.
In each of the past three years -- since the war began -- the cost of living has gone up by fifty per cent. Recently however, the pace of inflation has quickened, particularly with regard to rice -- the staple food of the area. One of the major causes of the spiral has been the decline in rice production. Before the war began, over 80% of the working population were engaged in rice cultivation. The number now is down to just over 30%. However the government still controls the rich rice growing areas of the West Bank of the Mekong and Bassic Rivers. Recently, convoys carrying wheat from the United States, have been breaking the Communist blockade to reach the city.
Fuel is strictly rationed to five gallons a vehicle and the government has recently banned the import of all passenger cars as well as to other luxury items. The situation is more critical with the supply of paraffin - the basis cooking fuel of the majority of Phnom Penh households.
Both sides in the war feel that with the economic situation, time is on their side. The Communists believe that increasing shortages and spiralling inflation will lead to a breakdown in support for the government, whereas the government believes that it only needs time (and aid from the United States) to redevelop, thus retaining or winning back the loyalty of the majority of Cambodians.
SYNOPSIS: Despite being in the middle of some of the heaviest fighting in Indo-China, life in Phnom Penh continues with apparent normality. Residents are said to be surprised to hear foreign radio stations describe their city as under siege. Although they are suffering considerable difficulties, they believe they are not besieged.
One of the greatest difficulties is the spiralling cost of basic foodstuffs and fuel. In each of the past three years - since the war began - the cost of living rose by fifty per cent. Inflation hit the staple foods worst of all. The price of some staples has climb by fifty to sixty per cent since January, but fruit, vegetables and fish rose by only ten per cent.
Inflation is felt in many ways. The cost of a cup of sidewalk tea has doubled since January.
Even more serious then the food shortage has been the scarcity of fuel. Paraffin the basic fuel for cooking and lighting has doubled in price and is getting more scarce. Petrol for vehicles remains a critically short item. But despite the shortage, new expensive foreign cars were, until recently, still being imported. Now however, the government has banned the import of all passenger cars and other luxury items.
One of the main causes of the food shortages has been a simple lack of production due to war dislocation. Prior to the fighting over eighty per cent of Cambodia's working population was engaged int he production of rice. Today that figure is down to just over thirty per cent.
But the picture is not entirely bleak for the ???. Since mid-April ships have been breaking through the communist blockade of the Mekong River, and bringing supplies to the city. And only last week an eight ship convoy, carrying about 2.5 million gallons of fuel, sailed into Phnom Penh, bringing to the beleaguered city much needed supplies.