The Phnom Penh Municipal Hall and the Ministry of Environment have issued responses to questions posed by UN Special Rapporteurs regarding the development of the Boeung Tompun and Boeung Choeung Ek wetlands to the south and southwest of the capital by ING Holdings.

On December 23 last year, seven UN representatives, including UN Special Rapporteur on human rights Rhona Smith, jointly presented the Cambodian government with a 13-page letter expressing environmental and rights concerns over the planned developments.

The letter alleged that the project threatened the livelihoods and homes of 1,000 families living in the area and would also cause irreparable damage to the wetlands ecosystem, placing more than a million people at increased risk of flooding.

It would also pollute the Mekong and Bassac rivers with untreated sewage and toxins, posing serious risks for communities living along the rivers and relying on them for income and food.

The letter added that each day, approximately 370,000 cubic metres of waste water is pumped from Phnom Penh into the wetlands, much of which is raw sewage. Infilling of the wetlands is projected to require 77.66 million cubic metres of sand and is ongoing today after commencing in or around 2004.

“If the wetlands continue to be in-filled, it is likely that nearly half of Phnom Penh – roughly 1.2 million people – will be at increased risk of flooding from sewage-contaminated flood waters. The wetlands are essential in providing storage capacity for flood waters, as well as naturally treating Phnom Penh’s wastewater through the planting of aquatic agriculture on the wetlands’ surface,” the letter read.

The UN Rapporteurs addressed questions regarding a dozen key points on issues ranging from human rights to environmental and social impacts, mitigation steps taken and the legal basis for leasing the area to ING Holding, among other topics.

The government’s responses were delivered through the Kingdom’s mission to the UN in Geneva in two separate letters dated February 17 and 18.

The Municipal Hall described the Boeung Tompun-Choeung Ek Satellite City Development Project as a mega-project covering a total area of 2,572ha in Meanchey, Dangkor and Chamkarmon. Comprehensive assessments of environmental and social impacts have been conducted since 2008.

The project is not located in a protected natural or conservation area, and the area is not home to any rare wildlife while the extant flora has no economic value, it said.

The administration acknowledged that the reduction of the Boeung Choeung Ek wetlands from 75 million to 18.76 million cubic metres reduced the area’s functionality for purifying natural wastewater but claimed that this has had a minimal impact on the drainage systems of Boeung Trabek, Boeung Tompun and the Mol and Roluos canals.

It said these problems could be resolved through the construction of wastewater treatment stations, rehabilitation of canals and reservoirs and the installation of sluice gates and water pumps at the end of Stoeung Chrov river and Prek Thmey canal.

“The project will generate more than $4 billion in national economic revenues over the next 20 years through increases in property prices, property taxes, business taxes and construction of physical infrastructure as well as direct and indirect job creation for many people, among others,” the Municipal Hall said.

More than 100,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created during the operational phase while 11 million temporary jobs

would be available during the construction phase from 2015 to 2035. Skilled workers in construction, engineering, and other technical specialists are expected to earn monthly salaries ranging from $250 to $12,000.

The project will improve physical infrastructure and ease traffic in southern Phnom Penh via the construction of three highways and 61 arterial roads with an aggregate length of 95.74km.

“Significant progress and achievements of this project have gradually come into reality, which are in stark contrast to the misleading propaganda of foreign media and reports of certain civil society organisations which have, in the absence of rigorous and technical study, portrayed the situation in a selective, subjective, distorted and provocative manner with political motivation,” the Municipal Hall claimed.

Similarly, the environment ministry disputed assertions made by UN representatives, claiming that environmental and social impacts would be not be as extensive as they had been purported to be, citing assessments conducted by an independent consulting firm.

“Allegations of pollution to be caused by the development project are not warranted because the remaining wetland area will receive sewage water from surrounding residences and the Boeung Trabek pumping station,” the ministry said.