Thousands of families will be affected by one of the capital's largest building projects, which critics fear will increase flooding and damage the environment
A boy sits atop a pipe used to pump sand into Boeung Kak lake Tuesday.
CONSTRUCTION has begun on the controversial Boeung Kak development, renewing concerns about the social and environmental impacts likely to result from the lake's reclamation. Contractors began pumping sand into the lake Tuesday morning in preparation for its eventual development into a 133-hectare commercial and housing project, an event attended by a considerable police presence.
"We started filling the lake at around 9am," said a worker from sand mining contractor HSC, adding that by noon around 80 square metres of the lake had been filled.
David Pred, country director of legal NGO Bridges Across Borders, said he tried to gain access to the site, but was ejected by police working for Shukaku Inc, the local developer of the project. "One policeman told me I had no right to be there and that the company owned the land," Pred said.
Three police officers were stationed outside the pumping site and several others inside. "I am following orders from senior officials not to allow anybody inside," one police officer said.
Lakeside resident Chum Chamnan, 39, who lives next to the pump's pipeline, said her property would the first to be filled with sand. "Now I really want to leave.... When I get the [compensation] money, I will tear down my wooden house and leave," she said.
The filling of the lake has raised environmental concerns. Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said the municipality had conducted an environmental impact assessment of the project, which supported the decision to fill 78 hectares of the lake. "Some critics say Boeung Kak aids flood protection, but they are not scholars who are studying the impact. We can develop Boeung Kak as long as we prepare a drainage system," he said in a meeting with 450 lakeside residents August 18.
Mao Hak, director of the Hydrology and River Works Department at the Ministry of Water Resources & Meteorology, said, "Boeung Kak is not a flood protection area. [It] is just a dead lake."
But Pred said government claims were difficult to verify as its impact assessment was not made available to the public.
"The government should hold a public forum to discuss the loss of this vital natural resource," he said. "Every Phnom Penh resident has the right to know what will happen."