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Trash Piling Up in Temple Town

Naomi Collett Ritz / Khmer Times Share:
A drain clogged with rubbish near Build Bright University in Siem Reap. Photo: Martin de Porres

SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – Residents of Wat Damnak village, just one kilometer from Pub Street, still resort to burning their rubbish when trash collection is slow. 

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A single company – Global Action for Environmental Awareness (GAEA) – has a monopoly on rubbish collection in Siem Reap. It handles more than 200 tons of trash per day, but focuses its energy on the tourist center of the city. GAEA also has its hand on Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Thom and Kampot provinces.
GAEA is one of six companies that make up the portfolio of Cambodia-based venture capital company Devenco, which took over the family-run company in 2007 before injecting $1 million in startup capital. 

EnviroCam, a private cleaning service, handles the rubbish in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Poor Service

Siem Reap residents pay between $1.50 and $30 per month for GAEA’s services. While some complain about their unofficial pricing schemes and irregular collections, waste continues to build up outside the city. When GAEA removes it from urban areas, they simply drive it to landfills further from town. Pick up, even in the city center, can take up to a week.

Wind and dogs scatter rubbish. Heat encourages the decay process. Rather than live on a lawn strewn with ripe trash, residents of Wat Damnak village pile their refuse next to a canal that cuts across the street. Every few days they burn it all into a pile of ash that gets windswept into the canal. Some residents have admitted to seeing people dump rubbish in their neighbor’s yard and in nearby bodies of water.

Member of Parliament for Siem Reap, Ke Sovannaroth, acknowledged that GAEA had obeyed orders to relocate their primary landfill when those living nearby complained that the smoke from the landfill’s burning refuse made it difficult to breathe. 

She also said the poor management of the waste collection system in the province is damaging peoples’ health as well as the environment. 

Although people complain, Ms. Ke says the canals and sewers are still regularly blocked by rubbish, and GAEA remains the same. “If the government doesn’t meet with them and say something, it will be the same [for] years and years. The government should come and check very often about this company. They can tell them to do their work without impacting the people or environment.” 

Cambodia’s Environment Minister Say Samal told Khmer Times in June that to combat rubbish piling up, the responsibility should shift from city to district and local authorities. He also said the Ministry of Education was in the process of drafting an environmental education curriculum for primary schools. 

Siem Reap resident Thomas Mclean says his home is not on GAEA’s route, so his house cleaner burns the garbage. “Some market competition would do the town some good,” he suggested.

Local Efforts

Siem Reap residents agree that the city is much cleaner than it was five years ago. They attribute progress to a responsive provincial government, the support of the Ministry of Tourism, and the cooperation of GAEA. 

Richard Crlik, one of the founders of the Clean Up Temple Town movement, speaks highly of the work GAEA is doing with the support of the local government. Since filing complaints about the trash that lines the riverbank across from his guesthouse, Mr. Crlik says trash cans – and even recycling bins in some places – have largely replaced the piles of garbage. 

When Clean Up Temple Town volunteers call GAEA to report a dumpsite that needs tending to, Mr. Crlik says GAEA responds within a day or two. 

Mr. Crlik is one of hundreds of residents in Siem Reap that have taken it upon themselves to create a culture of dialogue focused on “cleaning and greening” Siem Reap. Members of the Clean Up Temple Town movement report great success working with GAEA and the local government to address problem areas in and around the city. 

The Royal Gardens, for example, were outfitted with all new rubbish bins last month, and staff from Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor host monthly cleanup days in the gardens. 

Anyone in Control?

Pho Phallkunn resigned from his position as director of GAEA earlier this year due to “a personality issue,” current director Phinn Chansamnang confirms. Mr. Phinn noted that Mr. Pho still acts as the advisor for GAEA from his new home in Phnom Penh. 

While still director of GAEA, Mr. Pho hoped to secure funding for a technical dump, which would seal off the dump, not only keeping toxins from polluting the air, but also enabling the collection of methane gas produced by the waste in the dump. This methane gas could be harnessed as a form of energy. 

Local reports mention a $2 million donation from South Korea and a $4 million pledge from the Ministry of Environment – both for a technical landfill.
 
Phone calls to GAEA and Devenco went unanswered. Mr. Phinn referred any questions to Mr. Sokha, the environment officer in Siem Reap in charge of waste collection. Mr. Sokha confirmed the provinces that GAEA works in before declining  to answer further questions about funding or future plans.

According to local reports, GAEA has a 50-year contract to manage waste collection in Siem Reap and surrounding provinces. 

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