Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Health risk lurks in blocked sewers and open drains

Health risk lurks in blocked sewers and open drains

Health risk lurks in blocked sewers and open drains

health.jpg
health.jpg

For a quarter of a century, Luy Thy, 43, has sat next to Lu Tuk S'Oi, the notorious

open sewer that runs through Phnom Penh. The brightly striped cloth umbrella that

shades her tiny telephone booth stands out, incongruously cheerful, from the noxious

black water that flows slowly past her perch.

Lu Tuk S'Oi - "bad-smelling sewer water" - the notorious open sewer that runs through Phnom Penh. Health experts say the all-too-common stench wafting from blocked drains and open sewers like Lu Tuk S'Oi indicates a major health risk.

"I don't even notice the smell any more," said Luy Thy. "When you

first come, you notice the stink; when you have been here for a long time, it becomes

normal."

But the stench of Lu Tuk S'Oi - meaning literally "bad-smelling sewer water"

- hits those unaccustomed to it with a pungent punch in the nose. And according to

health experts, the all-too-common stench wafting from blocked drains and open sewers

like Lu Tuk S'Oi, is an odorous indication of a major health risk.

"The World Health Organization is very concerned about the possible contamination

of the urban water supply by sewage," said Dr Nasir Hassan, WHO Environmental

Health Adviser. "Cambodia is flood-prone and during floods even human feces

could escape from the sewage system and get into the water supply."

Phnom Penh's sewer network is old and decrepit. The main drainage routes were constructed

in the French colonial era and the secondary pipes built in the 1960s, said Ukai

Hikoyuki, Deputy Resident Representative for the Japan International Cooperation

Agency (JICA). He said like much of the capital's infrastructure, the sewer system

fell into disrepair during 30 years of civil strife.

"From the 1960s onwards Cambodia entered a period of conflict, so during this

time no maintenance was carried out on the sewers," he said. "The capacity

becomes very low: sand, soil and rubbish all block the pipes, and in some areas the

pipes are broken."

Phnom Penh has 120 km of old sewers of which only 35 percent - or 40 km - have been

upgraded said Nouv Saroeun, Director of Phnom Penh Municipality's Drain Water Unit.

Despite the addition of 78 km of new sewers since 1979 the system is struggling.

"We still have a major problem," Saroeun said.

Phnom Penh has a combined sewage system - in which storm water and sewage are carried

in the same pipes. The disadvantage, according to the United States Environmental

Protection Agency's information on combined sewer systems, is that "during periods

of heavy rainfall, the capacity of a combined sewer system may be exceeded [causing]

untreated combined sewage and storm water to overflow from manholes on to surface

streets."

But Saroeun believes there are solutions to the city's manifest drainage problems.

"I have suggested to the government that we should enlarge the sewer pipes as

they carry both rainwater and sewage so fill up quickly and flood," he said.

"Also, some streets are at a lower level than others - that is why they flood.

Sealing the roads properly with correct drainage will help ensure it doesn't flood

without having to change the road's level."

The government lacks the resources to maintain, let alone renovate, the sewerage

system. But international donors are aware of the pressing public health risks of

poor sanitation and are eager to help, Hikoyuki said.

"The Cambodian government has put high priority on this and we agree: this is

a serious problem," he said. "Sewers are a hygiene risk, especially near

markets where people are buying fresh meat and vegetables - it is very dangerous

to have poor sewers."

Japanese Grant Aid is funding an overhaul of Phnom Penh's sewers - stage two should

be complete by 2010.

But at Lu Tuk S'oi another long term resident of the area, Seang Phany, 48, has grown

tried of repeatedly asking the government to cover the open sewer that flows past

her house.

"A cover would keep the smell in and would prevent people throwing garbage into

the water," she said. "It would also reduce crime in the area - the river

is a problem for crime as we know that people use the black water to dispose of dead

bodies."

The financial costs and physical dangers of living next to an open sewer weigh heavily

on her mind.

"If people come to the area then all they do is complain about the smell and

want to get away from it - so how can the people who live here earn a living?"

she said. "It is dangerous too - two days ago a child fell into the river. Thankfully,

this time people saw and managed to get him out in time."

But Saroeun said that it would take between three to five years for the government

to cover all of Phnom Penh's open sewers - if the government decides this is an appropriate

action to take.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM to vet NY holiday dates

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance submitted a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to formally set a five-day national holiday from August 17-21 to make up for the Khmer New Year holiday in April that was postponed. Finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth sent

  • Cambodia rejects UN rights claim

    Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and

  • Snaring may spawn diseases

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that snaring of animals has become a crisis that poses a serious risk to wildlife in Southeast Asia and could spawn the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans. Its July 9 report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’

  • Ex-party leader, gov’t critic named as secretary of state

    A former political party leader known for being critical of the government has been appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, a royal decree dated July 9 said. Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party (KPP), told The Post

  • Residence cards set for over 80,000 immigrants

    The Ministry of Interior plans to grant residence cards to more than 80,000 immigrants to better keep track of them. The ministry announced the plan on July 10, following the results of an immigration census. “An inter-ministerial committee and many operational working groups have been set up

  • Kingdom produces PPE gear

    Medical supplies from Cambodia have been donated to member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to assist in the fight against Covid-19, said an ADB report published on July 9. The report stated that the supplies were donated as a response to global efforts to

  • Kingdom, US vow stronger ties

    At an academic forum on Saturday to celebrate 70 years of Cambodia-US diplomatic ties, Cambodian researchers and officials expressed hope of encouraging US investments and for that country to deepen and improve its bilateral relations. Held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, it reviewed the past 70

  • Fifteen Cambodians from Saudi get Covid-19

    The Ministry of Health on Sunday confirmed 15 more imported cases of Covid. The 15 men ‒ all Cambodian aged 21 to 33 ‒ arrived from Saudi Arabia on Friday via a connecting flight in Malaysia. They were travelling with 79 other passengers, three of them women. The ministry said 80 of the

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea