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Drastic need for far better drainage as capital expands

Sorn Sarath / Khmer Times Share:
Sangkat Boeng Trabaek canal in Phnom Penh. KT/Siv Channa

Poor water channel systems in ever-expanding Phnom Penh have been blamed for causing flooding during heavy rainfall.

Social observers said that a clear master plan for city development must be set out to respond to the increasing population otherwise it will cost the economy dearly.

Phnom Penh, where the population is nearly 3 million and the development of residential projects, apartments, condominiums and commercial buildings has mushroomed in recent years, suffers chronic flooding every year.

Sam Piseth, director of Phnom Penh Department of Public Works and Transport, said that currently the drainage network is small and insufficient for an expanding city.

He said roads in Phnom Penh are 2,460 kilometres (km) long, requiring 4,920 km of drainage network to cover both sides of the road. But Phnom Penh has only 880 km so it lacks more than 4,000 km.

“We are now working to address the issue,” he said, adding on both sides of National Road  4, for example, Phnom Penh authority is restoring 11 km length of water channel to pour the water into Kob Srov Lake.

The drainage system in Phnom Penh has remained the same since it was a French colony. Piseth said so far under assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, about 30km of new drainage is being built.

Rice fields, ponds and lakes, which present new potential for the city’s expansion, are being filled up for development projects but water channel systems are not being well developed to evacuate water during the rainy season.

The economist said this is technical work and experts need to be seriously concerned about this.

Hong Vannak, a business researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that all levels of authority, both national and local, need to think about this when an area is developed.

“They must muster a plan for the city’s expansion especially a water channel system when considering development projects. This is a priority,” he said. “Because we don’t have a proper water channel system, any landfill by developers that is higher than the road must be banned. It costs us $1 million for one kilometre of national road, for example. That is not cheap. Meanwhile, the government is saving money for other public investment services,” he said.

Phnom Penh is located in a low-lying area surrounded by lakes and is threatened by floods during the rainy season from Boeng Kob Srov, Tonle Sap, Tonle Bassac and Stung Prek Tnaot. The capital regularly receives water from Kampong Speu and Kandal provinces, before flowing into the rivers.

According to the Phnom Penh Department of Public Works and Transport, 14 pumping stations are used to pump water out of the city. The poor management of garbage is also causing flooding during heavy rain.

Va Simsorya, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said that lack of money has left the old drainage system unmodernised.

“We see road construction without a drainage system,” he said.

According to a report in July by human rights group Licadho, the Cambodian Youth Network and land rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), more than 1 million people in Phnom Penh face the risk of increased flooding and loss of livelihoods as wetlands in the Cambodian capital are destroyed to build apartments and industries. The report shows that in Phnom Penh, 15 of 25 lakes have been filled in with about a third of the Tompoun wetland covered so far.

Speaking to people affected by flood in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen rejected the claim flooding is caused by filling up the lakes, saying that it was natural causes that are affecting countries around the world.


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