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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rubbish burning becomes a burning issue

Rubbish burning becomes a burning issue

Khmer resident Seng Bun Korn has spoken out about people burning rubbish in front of their houses as a rubbish disposal method, a practice which he says is deleterious to both health and the environment.

Seng Bun Korn, 77, of Slo Kram village is now retired. He worked for the National Bank of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and left for France and then Canada before the Khmer Rouge regime. But he returned to Cambodia and built a house in Siem Reap in 2004.
He lives behind Baray Andet cinema and said that rubbish burning is something everyone is talking about now.

“Waste burning might be an expedient way of cleaning up dump areas, but after repeated fires, it pollutes the air and the ground as well as being hazardous for human health,” he said.

Seng Bun Korn, 77, worries about waste burning in Siem Reap.
Seng Bun Korn, 77, worries about waste burning in Siem Reap. Thik Kaliyann

He added that every day at dawn, a poisonous haze rises above Siem Reap. Instead of taking a breath of healthy morning air, local and tourists alike choke over acrid smoke rising from hundreds of small fires burning garbage.

“The villagers normally burn rubbish including plastic bags which badly affects the environment. It’s difficult for me to take a breath of fresh air here in my village,” he said.

“They burn anything and everything – cans, plastic and plastic bags. I hate the smell of burning plastic, and some days I have to absorb the polluted smoke for almost eight hours. It seriously affects everyone’s health.”

He has taken action and now explains to villagers the threats created by burning rubbish. He said, “Most of them didn’t acknowledge the wider issues of public health and environmental damage caused by waste burning. When they burn rubbish I go there, explain the problems to them and I will take water to put out the fire. Most of them understand what I mean and they stop doing it.”

Many villagers love to burn their rubbish in front of their houses as they think it is an easier method of rubbish disposal.
Many villagers love to burn their rubbish in front of their houses as they think it is an easier method of rubbish disposal. Thik Kaliyann

But he added that residents and the authorities must act together to solve the problem.

He said that the more visible culprits are property developers who burn mounds of accumulated rubbish because they are eager to sell land without having to pay for garbage removal.

He also says the fallout from burning rubbish will damage the temples.

“Smoke particles drifting over the Angkor monuments will settle on them, and during the rainy season these particles will turn to acid, attacking the stone reliefs and destroying them forever,” he said.

He also appeals to the authorities to educate people about the advantages of waste recycling, especially plastic. “I believe in the future we can recycle waste and reuse it, rather than burn it,” he said.

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