SEVERE flooding in northwestern Cambodia has left Banteay Meanchey provincial prison under more than 70 centimetres of water and created increasingly worrisome humanitarian conditions for the 850 inmates at the facility, prison officials and rights workers said.
Thean Chhorvoan, acting director of Banteay Meanchey provincial prison, said floods hit the detention centre beginning last Saturday and had been rising ever since.
“On Tuesday, the water level rose to a half-metre, and as of Thursday, the level of water has risen to 70 centimetres, even though authorities have used four generators to pump out water from the prison around the clock,” Thean Chhorvoan said. The area around the prison is also flooded, he said.
Thean Chhorvoan said yesterday that administrators had no immediate plans to evacuate inmates from the prison because they had succeeded for the time being in diverting the floodwaters from the prisoners’ sleeping area.
But Chea Sothea, a prison monitor for local rights group Licadho, said inmates were having trouble sleeping as water seeped into their quarters.
With the prison’s latrine flooded, she said, inmates had been forced to defecate in plastic bags, creating an extremely unsanitary environment that had led several prisoners to fall ill with diarrhoea.
Khut Nary, head of the Battambang regional office for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his organisation had provided the prison with sandbags, plastic bags for defecation and four generators to pump out the floodwaters.
“Villagers are free to evacuate to a safe place, but prisoners cannot find such a place,” Khut Nary said. “They have been forced to stay in the prison with the flood, and the prison officials do not have any plan to evacuate them anywhere at all so far.”
Northwestern Cambodia has been hit particularly hard by the Kingdom’s recent flooding, which began last week and has claimed eight lives. On Tuesday, a bridge in Battambang province collapsed under floodwaters, local officials said.
Heng Hak, director general of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, said Banteay Meanchey prison was the only detention facility in the Kingdom that had flooded.
“The water has not yet flooded into their cells, so we do not have any measures to move those prisoners anywhere yet,” he said. “For the health situation of the prisoners, it is not yet a concern.”
Khut Nary said, however, that the conditions at the Banteay Meanchey prison demanded immediate attention.
“The situation is worsening,” Khut Nary said. “Banteay Meanchey provincial prison is like a prison in the middle of a river, and it urgently needs assistance.”