After nearly a year of dry taps, the water supply at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison has finally been restored, but inmates are still being forced to pay for the so-called luxury commodity, according to those who live and work there.
The water system was cut last year, according to officials, because of road construction work taking place outside the prison.
Guards and well-connected inmates quickly began selling the trucked-in supply at inflated prices, the Post first reported last August, amid increases in fighting and illness.
But despite the supply being officially restored in recent weeks, staff and inmates at Prey Sar said this week that the situation has not improved.
One prison employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said that until a month ago, “three trucks were supplying the prison with water every day. But it was very expensive, so only prisoners with money could buy it; others had to use the water store, which smelled bad and made them itchy” when they washed with it.
Although the supply has now been restored, the guard said that prison officers were still intentionally giving inmates insufficient amounts of water.
“[Prisoners] are sharing their money with each other to buy the water, because the water provided by staff is not enough,” he said.
The guard added that water inside the prison is being sold for five times the price at which it was purchased.
“Inmates have to have money, because in prison they have to buy everything,” he said. “If they don’t have money, it’s very difficult for them; they can’t get enough food and water.”
A prisoner at Prey Sar who asked not to be named corroborated the guard’s account, arguing that the situation had actually worsened since the supply was restored.
“The electric pumps are turned on for barely 20 minutes a day, so we are getting less water than before. So little that I am spending extra on bottled drinking water,” he said.
Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, yesterday described clean water as a “fundamental right for all prisoners”.
“Every prison is responsible for the health of the prisoners detained within its walls, and this healthcare obligation cannot be met if prisoners do not receive, free of charge, sufficient clean water to meet their basic drinking water and sanitation needs,” she said.
Sorn Keo, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons, confirmed that Prey Sar’s water supply had been restored, but declined to comment on reports of extortion.
“I don’t know too much about that, but we always provide them with water,” he said.
Sun Lean, director of Prey Sar’s Correctional Centre 1, could not be reached for comment this week.