The heaps of fly-covered refuse known to accumulate around the capital are set to grow a whole lot worse as millions of visitors arrive for the upcoming Water Festival and tax the city’s overburdened trash collector.
More than two million additional people are expected to crowd into Phnom Penh next week and, along with the influx, garbage is predicted to nearly double, exceeding 2,000 tonnes per day.
To accommodate the increase over the three-day festival starting on November 5, the city’s sole rubbish collector, Cintri, has been asked to bolster its workforce and deploy additional trucks.
“They need to strengthen their capacity,” said Aunny Ieng, deputy governor at City Hall, who expressed doubts that the oft-criticised collector could handle the inundation.
“At the present time, they are not fulfilling their responsibilities. As everyone can see, there is still trash on the streets in many places, so they are not doing their job properly.”
Cintri estimates that an extra 500 workers will be needed to keep the festival areas clean, and has asked all its employees to volunteer during the national holiday. According to the Labour Law, the workers have the days off, but to entice them to help keep the city from being entrenched in trash, the company has promised overtime and per-diem bonuses.
“Every holiday poses a major challenge to trash collection in the city,” said Jon Morales, a program manager at Asia Foundation, which works with Cintri and the city government on waste-management issues. Pay incentives "meet with only limited success, as many understandably prefer to take their holiday”, he said.
Workers, who have twice held strikes this year related to conditions and salary raises, said they’re ready for Water Festival duty but hope to arrange for better pay.
“I always work on holidays … to get the extra money,” said Prak Sokha, a truck driver for Cintri and representative of the workers.
Sokha said that the staff has been promised daily incentives of 30,000 riel ($7.50) for drivers, 15,000 riel ($3.75) for collectors and 5,000 riel ($1.25) for street sweepers.
“I don’t think it is enough,” he said. “We work in dirty places and it affects our health.”