A motorcylist struggles against clouds of dust on Monivong Boulevard, like other main streets, a dustbowl after pipe-laying work. City officials say dust levels won't improve until 2003.
Tens of thousands of residents of Phnom Penh city are suffering respiratory problems
due to drawn-out construction activity, said an expert at the city's health department.
Work to upgrade Phnom Penh's road and drainage system has led to far higher dust
levels than normal, said Dr Veng Thai, Director of Phnom Penh's Municipal Health
Higher dust levels could cause a rise in serious respiratory diseases, including
lung infections, irritation of the respiratory system and even cancers, he said.
"If the people breath deeply every day, the high dust levels could cause these
problems," said Dr Thai.
He warned that motorcyclists were among those most likely to be affected. The effects
were likely to be felt in the long term, although he worried for those people who
already suffer from respiratory problems.
"I am concerned that dust levels could affect breathing, particularly of those
suffering from asthma," he said.
Pak Sokharavuth, who works in the chief office at a research lab in the Ministry
of Environment (MoE), said that studies by a Japanese testing center in May showed
that dust levels were the highest in south-east Asia.
MoE guidelines recommend a limit of 0.33 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3) total
suspended particulate in the air, but Sokharavuth said that the air sample analysis
in the laboratories in Phnom Penh and Japan showed levels were more than 10 times
this. The worst area was around the city's National Olympic Stadium.
"This figure shows a high concentration, so your government should make an effort
to reduce the air pollution in the city area," said Dr Nobuaki Matsuoka of Japan's
Kyushu Environmental Evaluation Association in correspondence to Sokharavuth.
Dr Thai said that was unlikely.
"Unfortunately we have no short-term measures to reduce the dust levels, because
the repairs are necessary for development," he said. He added that the city's
governor, Chea Sophara, expected the repairs would be completed by 2003 and that
the air quality would improve after that.
In the meantime, he said, his advice was for food vendors to cover their produce
and motorcyclists to wear surgical masks.