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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Capital's sewers need urgent treatment

Capital's sewers need urgent treatment

A N open sewer flows in front of Chhun Touch's house at Boeung Trabek in the southern

part of the city.

"We get a bad smell every day and it affects my family's heath, especially in

the rainy season," said Chhun Touch, who lacks the money to move away. "The

wastewater creates disease and brings mosquitoes, which cause dengue. But it seems

the government is never concerned about this issue."

According to Dr. Tep Danny from Calmette Hospital "the numbers of people who

have died from lack of hygiene in Cambodia is higher than soldiers killed on the

battlefields."

"Cambodia is one of the poorest and most under-developed countries in the world,"

he said. "The rate of disease is higher, especially death by dengue fever and

diarrhea."

The wastewater system in Phnom Penh appears to have received much less support from

the international community, bilateral donors and NGOs than the water supply.

Phnom Penh has a pipe culvert around 130 kms long with some 7,000 outlets. According

to Phnom Penh Governor Chim Seak Leng, the city has no budget or equipment to treat

the sewage and wastewater in Phnom Penh.

"We face a lot of factors which obstruct us from dealing with the sewer,"

said Chim Seak Leng.

He admitted that 40 percent of the sewers in Phnom Penh are broken, especially in

the southern part of the city, where they are blocked by 30,000 cubic meters of sand

and soil.

"When they built this city's sewer system, they thought that around 400,000

people would be living here, but now we have around one million," said Seak

Leng. "We need assistance from all sides to solve this problem."

Another problem is that presently all the drainage areas for storing wastewater are

at the same level as the road, according to Meach Channy, chief of planning for the

Sewage Department in Phnom Penh. The city has only three trucks for pumping the wastewater

from the drainage and "that's not enough."

"Every year at least two or three workers die from contagious diseases associated

with sewage," Meach said.

Meach said that although the department has 225 sewage workers, the city still faces

massive sewage problems.

Because of long years of war and the lack of upkeep of the sewers when Phnom Penh

was abandoned from 1975-79, many sewers are broken. "The water system is blocked

and in extremely poor condition," Meach said.

The street drainage system is in poor condition due to low spots, blocked inlets

and broken or missing pipes and manhole covers.

Blockage has been caused by sediment and urban litter and the lack of maintenance

during the 1970's. Sand and other building materials are stockpiled on footpaths

and there are no regulations governing the storage of such material. These materials

wash into the street and then into the sewers, adding to the problem of blockage

and siltation.

The open drains flow to the edge of the city are in very poor condition and in need

of major repairs. In addition, the open sewers pose major health hazard because they

are perfect breeding grounds for water-born diseases including dysentery and cholera.

PADEK, an NGO that currently manages a number of urban programs in Phnom Penh, has

estimated that it will cost $4 million to improve the wastewater system.

"Wastewater and sewage is the one main problem of the environment," said

Seng Oeum from the Ministry of the Environment. "But until now the government

has no ability to monitor and treat wastewater before its flows to the river."

According to Seng, a delegation from Kuwait recently visited Cambodia and is planning

to help with the sewage problem.

Seng Oeum's assessment is that the effect of the sewage is not yet posing a serious

problem for the city's population.

"We hold this opinion because the sewage has no remnants or runoff from the

factories," said Seng. "The Environment Ministry has made an agreement

with the Ministry of Industry not to allow to factories to be built in the city area.

We will ask investors to build them along the National Road 4, west of Phnom Penh."

In the future, the State Secretary of Environment plans to draft an environmental

law and ban people from throwing any rubbish into the sewers.

In the eyes of the donor community, wastewater and sewage are considered small problems.

But for Phnom Penh citizens like Chhun Touch who face the stench and health problems

of sewage every day, it is a major concern.

"Wastewater creates a lot of health problems for my family and I worry that

all the mosquitoes can cause dengue fever," said Chhun Touch.
( –Um Sarin was a recent participant in a training course on Reporting on the

Environment conducted in Thailand by the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation.)

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