A local NGO has raised significant concerns over waste management among Phnom Penh’s poorest and most marginalised communities, warning of the need for improved governance, in a report released on Tuesday.
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), an NGO providing pro-poor technical assistance for housing and infrastructure in urban areas, produced Urban Governance Waste Management in Phnom Penh, a 40-page English language report, after conducting extensive research in 12 of the capital’s poorest districts.
Through questionnaires, interviews and focus group discussions, it found that 99 of Phnom Penh’s 277 urban poor communities – equal to 35.7 per cent of the capital’s population – still received no waste management services.
STT concluded that the main causes behind the situation were a lack of transparency, equity, accountability and responsiveness in local governance.
Strikingly, STT also highlighted a lack of respect for the welfare and lives of workers employed by the capital’s waste disposal contractor Cintri, with the company demonstrating a poor staff safety record over the past four years.
Cintri employs 2,359 workers, of which 1,678 work in field operations. Their safety record is under scrutiny with 14 members of staff dying on the job over the past four years.
STT also highlighted the 380 injuries among Cintri staff in the past three years, including 285 vehicle-to-worker accidents, and close to 90 injuries resulting from cuts, burns and falls.
“Without better governance moving forwards, local [authorities], the [government] and Cintri will continue to endanger citizens and workers, undermining their ability to provide trash collection services,” the report reads.
STT’s programme adviser Isaac Daniels said the research was done to understand why waste management was not working in nearly a hundred urban poor communities in Phnom Penh.
“We wanted to know if it was a technical issue, or a governance issue. Our research indicates that many issues with waste management are governance-related,” he said.
Daniels added that the public needed better education on how to organise waste for collection, also calling for Cintri to be responsive to the needs of the urban poor by using rubbish carts in highly urbanised communities not accessible by trucks.
“What we found is that one way to improve the governance of waste management is for the government to improve its communication and outreach to urban poor communities to find solutions together,” Daniels said.
To remedy problems associated with poor waste management and hygiene in poor communities, Daniels proposed several recommendations for Phnom Penh Municipal Hall.
These included releasing progress reports, evaluations and budgetary information, as well as the details of their contract with Cintri.
“Governance needs to be improved in several areas, especially transparency, because without access to contracts and reports it remains too difficult to assess waste management comprehensively,” he said.
Khieu Vuthy, a Cintri representative in charge of operations in all 12 capital districts, said the company distributed high-visibility clothing but workers did not wear them. He added that the company also gave staff masks and protective boots but workers preferred to wear their own clothes.
Vuthy continued that the company had a truck visit hard-to-reach communities twice a week, using its horn to alert people to bring out their waste if the road was too narrow for it to fit down.
“The area we cannot access is Andong community. We created a place for them, but they don’t put their waste there. So we have a truck on standby two times a week."
“When we arrive, we honk the horn and they bring the waste; we wait until everyone has brought waste to the truck. This can reduce dumping waste chaotically,” he said.
Addressing concerns over worker safety, Vuthy said Cintri was not to blame, rather the dangers of living in Phnom Penh were.
“While they were working in the street, motorbikes and cars hit them, even though there was a barrier for them,” he said, adding that the most dangerous time for Cintri workers was between midnight and 5am.
Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesperson Met Meas Pheakdey said he could not comment before having read the report.