Nearly 300 boats will race in this year’s Water Festival in Phnom Penh, up from the 270 that took part last year, an official said yesterday.
Bun Veasna, an official with the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, said that 298 boats will race this year, with 19,219 rowers taking part.
“We closed registration today and the boats are from all the provinces,” he said, noting that he also expects the number of spectators to increase.
Bou Chum Serei, permanent vice-chairman of the committee, said the water level this year is about five metres, which is lower than last year but will not hamper the races.
“The water level this year is lower than last year because the Water Festival this year is being celebrated at the end of November.”
Interior Ministrer Sar Kheng said that some politicians have often criticised the government for cancelling the event in the past, claiming that it did so because it was scared of large crowds gathering.
“Some politicians always accuse the government, saying that it dares not hold the event over fear of large crowds,” he said. “But this is not true.”
“In the past, the event was cancelled because of low water levels,” he noted.
Since a human stampede in 2010, when more than 350 people died, the event has been cancelled four times, with the government citing water levels and the death of King Norodom Sihanouk as the causes.
According to the Ministry of Information, the Health Ministry has prepared eight first aid locations for this year’s festival, which begins next week.
Ngy Mean Heng, director of the Phnom Penh health department, said about 800 health officials will be on duty.
Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng said yesterday that the taxi boat service along the Tonle Sap, Mekong River and Bassac River will be suspended for six days, from November 19 until 24.
“In order to maintain public order, safety, security and traffic along the waterways, and in order to avoid any accidents, City Hall will suspend the taxi boat for six days,” he said.
Mr Sreng also said that relatives and friends of the 2010 stampeded victims are welcome to join a ceremony planned to pay respect to the deceased on November 22 at 7am.
Held over three days, last year’s festival in the capital attracted more than 1.3 million visitors.