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Sewage canal bursts its banks

A coconut seller walks in ankle-high floodwater from an overflowing sewage canal in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district.
A coconut seller walks in ankle-high floodwater from an overflowing sewage canal yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district. VIREAK MAI

Sewage canal bursts its banks

Raw sewage spewed onto Street 105 from the antiquated discharge canal running parallel to it yesterday as heavy rains continued to create headaches in the capital.

The putrid water lipped homes and local business on the street in Chamkarmon’s Boeung Trabek commune, alarming residents.

Pich Panha, 20, a local resident living about 17 metres from the open sewage canal, said the water had been steadily rising for two days.

“We’re worried about getting dengue fever [from the mounting sitting water] so we’re trying to be extra careful,” Pich Panha said, against a backdrop of thigh-high sewage water brimming with floating trash and discarded bottles.

The city was pelted with heavy rain that began at about 3pm on Tuesday and continued until around 5:30pm, according to Touch Meas Snguon, a 38-year-old motorbike taxi driver renting a room dangerously close to the odorous overflow.

“I could not make money today. My motorbike is broken after I drove it through the water last night,” Snguon said.

But Snguon noted that locals were accustomed to living around wastewater and rarely got sick, while repeatedly emphasising it was rainwater, not sewage, seeping onto the street.

Water levels at Boeung Trabek Pumping Station hit six metres on Monday night following heavy rain, up from the normal 3.6-metre mark, 71-year-old Em Sothat, an employee at the station, said.

“We usually use only three machines to pump water, but since Tuesday night, five more machines have been used,” Sothat said, adding that the water hit peak levels this year during Tuesday’s downpour.

Togo Uchida, a project formulation adviser in charge of environment and climate change at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the organisation has been working with City Hall since 1999 to repair and expand the city’s existing drainage system.

“What I’ve heard unofficially is the pumping system [connected to Boeung Trabek Pumping Station] is manned by eight pipes. The issue with the open sewage channel, one which City Hall has been working to improve for many years, is maintaining the channel’s cleanliness,” Uchida said.

Wastewater travels through Phnom Penh’s central piping through the open canals to Boeung Trabek.

It is then partially purified by morning glory and lotus growing in waters north of the station. Chreang Sophan, a deputy governor in the capital, cited climate change and a rapidly growing urban population as among the blockades slowing repair of citywide drainage systems.

“The population is growing very fast, [faster than] most of our drainage systems have expanded,” Sophan said.

Both Uchida and Sophan highlighted how skyrocketing urban development is outpacing expansion of the city’s drainage system, a key component in City Hall and JICA’s frequently criticised execution of the project.

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