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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Search for solutions as garbage piles up

Search for solutions as garbage piles up

WITH about 500 tonnes of garbage produced a day in Phnom Penh, experts are weighing

up how to cope with what is becoming a mounting problem.

Two German technical advisers are studying ways to improve waste management in Phnom

Penh and are suggesting organized recycling.

"Since we arrived in February, we have spotted big collection and transportation

problems," said Thomas Bertram, head of solid-waste management for the Municipality

of Erfurt.

The Phnom Penh Municipality says it has no plans for recycling at this stage. Very

little is recycled in Cambodia, though some waste material is sold to middlemen and

sent to recycling plants in Thailand and Vietnam.

But solutions - including sites for new refuse dumps - are likely to have to be found

soon.

The Department of Public Works says that, at a total of 500 tonnes a day, Phnom Penh's

amount of refuse has more than doubled in the past four years.

As the economy evolves, vegetable waste is being added to by increased volumes of

plastic, paper, and metal.

Garbage is collected in Phnom Penh by the Environment Development Co Ltd (ENV), a

private German company, and taken to Stung Mean Chey - the only official dump in

Phnom Penh since 1960 - about five kilometers south of the city center.

Teruo Jinnai, a United Nations financial advisor to Phnom Penh Municipality, agreed

that problems will arise soon from only having one dump, as the capital's population

grows.

The population of Phnom Penh, approximately one million, is growing rapidly with

a potential increase of 40 to 50 per cent, according to the Ministry of Industry.

"Until now we've been fortunate with a rather small population but now we seriously

have to start planning a feasible solid-waste management project," said Jinnai.

The German experts have pointed out three potential sites for other garbage dumps,

in Dang Kor district, on the western boundary of the city. They propose that Stung

Mean Chey become a transfer point to other landfill sites.

Municipal deputy cabinet chief Kim Saysamlen said the real problem is not of space

but of environmental concerns. "Winds blowing towards the city during the monsoon

drive smoke towards Phnom Penh and polluted water enters wells used by people living

in the area," he said.

The dump could still be used for two or three more years, he says, but the Ministry

of Environment has asked the Municipality to find a solution for neigboring residents.

The dump site will need to be slightly inclined so that rain water can flow. "The

place has to be feasible according to climatic, geologic, hydrologic, and economic

criteria and of course kept secret to avoid land price increases," said ENV

director Peter Berkholz.

ENV pays the Municipality $24,000 per year for exclusive refuse-collection rights.

The company has been given a 50-year franchise with the understanding that all refuse

will be collected in the city.

"There are still difficulties with ENV and we already had people complaining

because of uncollected trash," said Jinnai.

The company charges residents, business, restaurants or embassies a variable monthly

fee to collect their trash. Apartment residents pay 2,000 Riel, while foreigners

renting a villa pay $20 and embassies $200. Schools, pagodas, and hospitals are not

billed.

ENV works as a privately-owned public service. A municipality body monitors its activities

to ensure complaince with its contractual obligations. "The Municipality can

request ENV to collect again if necessary," said Jinnai.

Since commencing operations December 1996, ENV's director claims it has lost an average

$50,000 a month and that only 20 percent of the fees are paid. ENV also reports corruption

among its own 80 collectors.

The monopoly leaves uncollected waste in various parts of the city, especially poor

areas. "Garbage collection trucks are rarely seen on many streets. In the Boeung

Kang Kong area, the garbage is collected twice a week," said Robert Deutsch,

a consultant for Partnership for Development in Cambodia (PADEK).

"ENV's work is not 100 percent, but still it is better than any other system

we have had," said Saysamlen.

In 1979, the Department of Public Works was responsible for collection. When it proved

too costly, French company Pacific Asie de Developpement (PAD) paid $54,000 for exclusive

rights in 1993. After the company went bankrupt, the Municipality contracted Cambodian-owned

Phnom Penh Cleansing (PPC) in August 1995 for the franchise. PPC abandoned operations

last November.

"Repeated changes of contractors will not bring a solution. The problem is that

it should be a Municipality job," said Jinnai.

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