Blame is being passed around on the cause of flooding along the Boeung Trabek canal which inundated people’s homes after two consecutive days of heavy downpours on Monday and Tuesday as the rainy season moves into full swing.
The finger is being pointed at pumping station staff, people living along the waterway, and the selling off of Phnom Penh’s lakes to be filled in for development.
San Chey, the executive director of the Cambodia-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the flooding was largely caused by lakes that originally served to store excess water having been filled in after they were sold off for development.
Boeung Kak lake towards the north and centre of Phnom Penh is being developed as Phnom Penh City Centre with Boeung Trabek itself now the site of a 217,000-square-metre Chinese development, Sino Plaza.
Boeung Tumpun towards the south is estimated to be over 50 percent filled in and serves to handle the capacity the other two no longer can.
But trash in the drainage system is not helping matters, Chey said.
“Because the city still depends on the original drainage system, the capacity of which has been reduced after the lakes have been filled, any blockage can cause flooding. Garbage in the system is clearly a cause of blockages,” he said.
Most of Phnom Penh’s drainage system, which collects rain and wastewater, are the remnants of France’s colonial rule. As they were intended for a population of only a few hundred thousand, the rapid growth of the city has stretched them to the limit.
It was previously predicted that filling in Boeung Trabek lake would dramatically impact flooding in the capital, for instance, by Uchida Togo, the project formulation adviser with Japanese development agency JICA, which has worked closely with the municipality to improve the capital’s drainage and sewage system.
In January 2015, he told The Post: “This lake is really important. It’s the same as an underground reservoir. It absorbs the impact [of rain]. For this reason, it’s important to keep this lake, but we can see . . . the northern part is already filled in.”And now it is completely gone.
Duong Chansarath, chief of the drainage and sewage unit at the Phnom Penh Department of Public Works and Transport, said garbage in the drainage system causes blockages further down at the pumping stations, which then take longer to pump excess water into a shrinking Boeung Tumpun canal causing flooding.
“The garbage is a very serious problem that hinders water from running off and slows down its flow. It can even damage the pumping stations. So the garbage has to be properly disposed of. There is so much of it that it’s not easy to remove,” he said.
Chansarath said the most polluted canal was Boeung Trabek canal – commonly referred to as “S— Creek” by expatriates – followed by the Boeung Tumpun canal.
“In three months we cleared nearly 300 to 400 truckloads of garbage from Boeung Trabek canal, with each truck being able to carry around three tonnes of rubbish. If the rubbish is disposed of, it would reduce the chances of flooding by around 50-60 percent,” he said.
Chansarath pointed his finger at Boeung Trabek residents who he said were the culprits as they are mostly the ones who live along the canal.
But Sen Bote, the Boeung Trabek commune chief, denied this. “The people who live along the canal dispose of their rubbish properly,” he said.
Hem Sophat, the Phsar Deum Thkov commune chief, said rubbish in Boeung Trabek canal flowed in from other streams, with the people who lived along them making matters worse and throwing their rubbish into the waterway. All this rubbish then flows into Boeung Trabek canal.
“The rubbish flows in from further up, so it is not only ours,” Sophat said, adding that local residents had carts with which they removed trash on a daily basis.
City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey said the flooding was caused by heavy rains and rubbish, with other contributing factors.
He said City Hall attempted to solve the problem by installing additional drains, while Boeung Trabek and Steung Meanchey canals would increase their water pumping capacities to reduce flooding in the city.
“After the heavy downpours on Monday and Tuesday, we observed that after it had stopped raining, in some areas, the water was gone after 30 minutes or an hour at most,” he said.
However, he denied that the flooding was related to any filling in of lakes. “The filling in of lakes is a different story. Filling in lakes is a result of the country’s development due to population and economic growth,” he said.
A worker at the Boeung Trabek pumping station, 50-year-old Khiev Kosal, complained of being unfairly blamed after people who dumped their rubbish into the canal blocked its pumping station and caused the flooding.
“We cannot pump the water in time because of all the rubbish. We struggle to pump it as it is, and then whenever there are heavy downpours, it brings at least another 10 tonnes of garbage."
“We have asked the municipal authorities to take serious action against people who dump rubbish into the canal, so please do not blame the pumping stations as no matter how many pumps we use, we still can’t pump out all the water in time.
“We work hard to clear capacity, but City Hall still blames us even though they are the ones who allow rubbish to build up in the canals like that.
“One year, we removed hundreds of tonnes of waste from Boeung Trabek canal. It’s a tough and miserable job, with little pay. Yet we get blamed. We have to dive into the water to remove the rubbish with our bare hands, despite it being unhygienic and highly polluted with excrement and urine. But even this is not as bad as the toxic chemicals that are in the canal,” he said.