Phnom Penh was selected on Wednesday as one of 35 cities joining a $100 million “resiliency” program meant to strengthen urban centres’ abilities to respond to shocks and stresses, including climate change, natural disasters, pollution and resource scarcity.
As part of the six- to nine-month 100 Resilient Cities program anticipated to start next year, Phnom Penh will be given a “Chief Resilience Officer”.
This yet-to-be-determined technical adviser will help city officials create a road map for addressing issues plaguing the nation’s ever-expanding capital, such as rolling blackouts, flooding and poor air-quality.
“The intense growth occurring and projected for Phnom Penh … coupled with concerns of access to affordable energy, to flooding, to ageing infrastructure, to maintaining economic opportunity means the city will need to change in order to succeed, and we are excited about helping that happen,” said Max Young, director of global communications and marketing at 100 Resilient Cities, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Migration to Phnom Penh has long resulted in a population that outstrips available energy resources and overtaxes city infrastructure, leading to chronic rolling electricity cuts and garbage-clogged sewers.
“When we are selecting network cities, we are not necessarily looking for those that have already done a great deal to become resilient, but cities that show they are ready to change the way they are operating in order to become stronger,” said Young, adding that Phnom Penh fit the bill.
Some factors, like mitigating the pressures of climate change, are already increasingly being considered in Cambodia’s urban-planning, according to Bernard Jaspers Faijer, Asia rapid response coordinator for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department.
“The good thing is that there’s a lot more thinking about floods and droughts in the planning process of villages, communes, districts and provinces,” he said.
On Tuesday, Cambodia was ranked the world’s second-most vulnerable country to extreme weather events, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2014. Last year, it was 68th.
The massive leap in susceptibility was attributed to an increase in severe droughts and monsoons hitting the nation last year, causing $1.5 billion in damages and at least 184 casualties.