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Many hands help Siem Reap clean-up

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WEED PATROL

Clean-up time in the Stung Siem Reap

SIEM REAP TOWN This leafy town is so cash-strapped it cannot even afford to clean

up its own garbage. Yet, as home to Cambodia's premier tourist attraction the Angkor

temples the maintenance of Siem Reap is crucial to the town's economy.

So the townsfolk are banding together to create a number of community initiatives

to deal with problems the government with its empty coffers cannot. Cleaning the

river, building a bridge, and collecting garbage are three tasks the community have

taken upon themselves.

On Oct 3, residents rolled up their trousers and waded into the Siem Reap river,

clearing weeds and rubbish from the bed and banks. The "Clean River Campaign"

drew some 1000 participants, who lined the river for almost three kilometers.

"This town depends on the river very much. If you let the river become polluted,

that is to say we kill ourselves," said Governor Toan Chay in a closing speech.

The governor himself declined to get his feet wet, but representatives of the provincial

tourism and public works departments, police, local hotels and restaurants, and over

100 schoolchildren plunged into the water.

"I am happy, there are a lot of people doing it together," said schoolgirl

Sopheap, 13. "If we clean the river like this, it will be nice and clean."

Richard Helfer, CEO/Chairman of Raffles International the corporate owner of Siem

Reap's Grand Hotel d'Angkor which organized the event pledged that the hotel would

run similar river cleanings every three or four months.

One previous river-cleaning day, last May, has had an effect already, according to

Grand Hotel sales executive Sok Sann.

"I think people start to understand not to throw things in," he said. "There

is not so much rubbish this time as last time. That's progress."

Toan Chay, who called the river-cleaning campaign "historic", said suchinitiatives

are key in the present cash-strapped times. "I have had no money since last

year," he replied to a question about his provincial budget.

Provincial director of Public Works, Sok Sin Lin, reiterated the money woes. "In

this office, we have no money," he said. "Phnom Penh pays for office supplies,

but for building, no."

So when a 1997 flood washed away a bridge in central Siem Reap, the Public Works

Department had no hope of being able to build a new one. But Sok Sin Lin got together

with the monks at nearby Po Tek Ruat pagoda to secure provincial permission to build

it themselves.

The monks took up a collection for the bridge and work began in March. It is due

to be finished in another four months.

"The monks and the public together, it is good," said Tang Teum, manager

of Po Tek Ruat pagoda. He added that upon its completion, the monks would hold a

ceremony at the bridge and televise it nationally.

Sin Lin said he has personally contributed about $10,000 towards the $30-40,000 project,

as a way of making Buddhist merit. "Every time someone walks over the bridge,

it will be merit for me," he said.

Sin Lin said the Public Works Department is so broke it cannot even afford to clean

up the city's garbage, much less build bridges. "In two years, I have not had

a budget," he said.

To combat a rubbish pile-up, hotels and restaurants band together to collect money

to pay private workers to clean up the trash, especially in the touristed riverside

areas.

Sin Lin said such private initiative was the only way to keep Siem Reap presentable.

"People who have a lot of money help to clean the city," he said.

"The provincial workers don't get any money."

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