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
"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
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
"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
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.)