With a rapidly rising population exacerbating the country’s existing infrastructure, the Asia Development Bank (ADB) has highlighted in a new study the Cambodian government’s failure to install effective planning policies in its most densely populated urban centres.
The ADB estimates that, driven by work opportunities and higher wages in the country’s tourism, construction and garment sectors, 30 per cent of Cambodia’s 15.6 million-person population is now living within 24 of the country’s most urbanised cities, ranging from the larger Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to the smaller cities of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng.
The ADB estimates that by 2030, with a total population of 18 million, at least 44 per cent of Cambodians will be concentrated in these urban areas.
“Today, Cambodia is at a critical juncture to set the trajectory right for urban development and to start managing the urbanisation process,” the report states.
The study says that outdated legislation from national-level ministerial departments and ineffective planning regulations set by municipal authorities are hampering the development of the country’s infrastructure needs, such as transport, waste management, roads, water and drainage systems.
“All these issues need to be urgently addressed as potentially they pose a grave impact on economic productivity and quality of people’s lives in urban areas,” the report continues.
Citing the example of the government’s construction permit laws, which were established in 1997 and remain in place today, the ADB says a lack of commitment to approve new land use plans, as well as conflicts of interest between "individuals" and ministries, demonstrate how the government’s existing planning strategies are not equipped to cope with the rapid urbanisation of the country’s population.
Without swift action from the government on planning regulations, management and design, the ADB concludes that Cambodia’s “urban environment is due to deteriorate, posing great risk for the health of urban dwellers”.
“By gradually building the government’s capacity to go further into building codes, planning and enforcement, we will hopefully see more immediate benefits to the country’s urban development,” Januar Hakim, senior project management specialist at the ADB said.
“Take for example the border towns of Poipet and Bavet. They have both developed extremely rapidly from trade and tourism, but not as a municipality. So that is an example of where planning regulation is urgently needed."
A careful balance of planning regulations will help encourage private sector development, said a surveyor at global commercial real estate company CBRE, Chris Hobden.
“A more coherent, long-term master plan and planning policy framework could serve to add confidence to foreign investors and lead to a more structured expansion of Phnom Penh, a city that is certain to experience the effects of significant urbanisation over the coming years,” Hobden said.
Minister of Planning Chhay Than said the government was working on a masterplan to improve infrastructure development throughout the country, that would cost $6 billion. However the improvements require private sector partnerships.
“Of course the private sector is our main partner in improving the country’s development. Without them the work cannot be done,” he said, adding that enhancing major cities’ infrastructure is a top priority for the government.