The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $180 million loan to help three Cambodian towns improve urban infrastructure and boost economic competitiveness.

According to an ADB press release on November 19, the Livable Cities Investment Project will help more than 140,000 residents in Bavet, Kampot and Poipet access better wastewater and solid waste management services. It will help the towns reduce flooding by upgrading their urban stormwater and drainage systems. The project also aims to strengthen the capacity of municipal governments to deliver urban services.

“More Cambodians are moving to secondary cities, but limited access to urban infrastructure and services, as well as environmental degradation, has worsened living conditions and hurt urban economic growth,” said ADB Urban Development Specialist Wei Kim Swain.

“The project will help the government upgrade sanitation and waste management and raise living standards, especially among low-income households vulnerable to the health, economic, and environmental effects of poor sanitation. It will also help the municipalities attract private sector investment and create jobs,” she added.

The ADB noted that Cambodia’s urban population rose to six million in 2019 from 2.6 million in 2008, which has posed a challenge for municipal administrations to provide services.

In 2019, about 47 per cent of Cambodia’s urban population had access to piped water supply in dwellings. Untreated sewage is commonly discharged into the open environment through combined sewers and road drains or indirectly via open canals. Solid waste services are limited. A large proportion of solid waste is left uncollected, dumped in open canals, the open environment or burned.

The press release added that Cambodia’s 2019-2023 National Strategic Development Plan aims to address those challenges. The plan prioritises investments in public infrastructure, including water supply and sanitation, and sets a national target for all cities to provide safe water by 2025 and strengthen solid waste management.

It said ADB’s country partnership strategy for Cambodia 2019-2023 supports economic growth along the greater Mekong subregion southern economic corridor, where Bavet, Kampot and Poipet are located. Bavet and Poipet are entry points to Vietnam and Thailand, respectively, and the port city Kampot has become a tourist destination.

According to the press release, in Bavet and Poipet, the project will support the rehabilitation of existing canals and the construction of a wastewater treatment plant, sewage network, new stormwater drains, and landfills. In Kampot, the project will expand the sewage network and lay out a plan for local administrations to become self-sufficient service providers.

It said the project will deliver a road map to boost revenue collection by municipal administrations, which have relied heavily on subsidies from the government to provide services.

The road map will include tariff reform to cover city operations and maintenance and a plan to ensure efficient service delivery, including an assessment of opportunities for private sector participation.

The press release added that ADB’s new project will be supported by a $2 million technical assistance grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. The technical assistance will focus on the sustainable and climate-resilient development of the towns, including improving land use planning, as well as institutional capacity and governance.

ADB will work with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction in coordinating with the participating towns and the ministries for national regulatory and policy reforms.

Bavet town governor Lim Seang Heng said on November 21 that many towns in Cambodia applied for the funding and competed to be a part of the project and Bavet was lucky enough to be one of the three winners along with Kampot and Poipet.

“ADB approved the loan for the Livable Cities Investment Project in Bavet. The proposal includes a wastewater treatment plant and upgraded sewage network for the businesses, factories and houses constructed along the roadsides in Bavet town,” he said.

He added that the Bavet town administration had studied the project for more than two years and planned to begin implementation of it in 2021, but due Covid-19 it was postponed until the following year.