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Cambodian inmates face flood

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Sandbags hold back floodwater at the gate of the Banteay Meanchey provincial prison. Photograph supplied

About 1,000 inmates, including 10 children, in Banteay Meanchey’s crowded provincial prison face damp days ahead as authorities battle rising floodwaters.

Half a metre of water had reached the entrance to the prison by last Saturday, and workers have been employing pumps and sandbags to hold back floodwater from the Serei Sophorn river.

Prison welfare monitors said it was unlikely there would be an evacuation of the jail, which is 50 per cent over cap-acity, according to a recent Licadho report.

“That could be a logistical nightmare,” Prison Fellowship Cambodia director Adam Hutchinson said. “Prisons would be doing everything they could to delay evacuation.”

A mass prison evacuation would also pose a security risk, Marie-Dominique Parent, human rights officer for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, said.

“No prison has ever been evacuated, even when the prison in Siem Reap was flooded.”

In July, prison authorities attended workshops on how to cope with flooding, after last year’s disastrous September floods inundated Siem Reap prison with a metre of water, exposing prisoners to sanitation risks and water-borne diseases.

In the three years since it was built, the Banteay Meanchey provincial prison has flooded three times, but this year, the facility was better prepared, prison chief Hin Sophal said. “The flood in 2010 was the worst, but we are well-prepared to prevent the flood and the operation is still running smoothly.”

Jeff Vize, prison project consultant with Licadho, said it was worrying that the prison had been built on a flood-prone area in the first place.

The facility was built before a prakas governing engineering standards, which requires investigating the location of future prisons.

“Those buildings built from 2006 to 2009 probably wouldn’t be built in those locations if they were considering building them now,” Hutchinson said.

Yim Bunrom, provincial director of the water resources and meteorology department in Banteay Meanchey, said the water level of the Serei Sophorn river will likely decrease in a few days.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rosa Ellen and Phak Seangly at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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