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Sihanoukville facing a trash crisis

A pile of trash waits for pickup in Sihanoukville. Waste collection company Cintri has said it will terminate its services in the city on September 14.
A pile of trash waits for pickup in Sihanoukville. Waste collection company Cintri has said it will terminate its services in the city on September 14. Photo supplied

Sihanoukville facing a trash crisis

Sihanoukville officials are scrambling to figure out how they will collect rubbish throughout the city – one of the top tourism destinations in the country – if waste management firm Cintri makes good on a recent threat to halt services on September 14, raising concerns that unmanaged mounds of trash could damage the local economy.

Cintri, which has provided waste-collection services in Sihanoukville since 2005, informed officials in a letter dated July 31 that it would suspend its services beginning August 15. It cited numerous problems, such as bad road conditions, profit losses and the lack of a current official contract. It later agreed to extend its services until September 14, said company manager Ith Chenda.

Chenda said Cintri faces a slew of problems in Sihanoukville. For example, he said, the dump site is at the end of about 30 kilometres of slippery, steep roads, which have caused some of their trucks to overturn.

Chenda also claimed that about 60 percent of the 10,000 customers in Sihanoukville have not paid their fees since 2005, though he was unable to provide an estimate of how much this had cost the company, or explain why the issue hadn’t been addressed before.

“If they [the customers] are happy, they will pay, [but] if they are not happy, they would not pay,” he said. “We have no power … to get the fees. It’s very complicated to collect the money from the customers.”

Cintri has 90 staff members and 22 trash collection trucks in Sihanoukville. But unless authorities are able to develop a mechanism to help Cintri collect the payments, Chenda said, it will cease operations permanently in less than 10 days.

Sihanoukville Governor Y Sokleng said the municipality had paid Cintri $30,000 for the one-month extension, and that since August 14, officials had been seeking other companies to provide trash-collection services. As of yesterday, however, no company had shown interest.

Cintri collected garbage in Sihanoukville under a memorandum of understanding with provincial authorities from 2005 to 2015. But in 2015, the Ministry of Environment issued a sub-decree to decentralise those services to the local level. Since then, Cintri has not signed a contract with municipal authorities, Chenda said.

Sokleng said officials were still waiting on the national level to provide further guidance on how to implement the 2015 changes.

He added that the municipality had prepared 50 staff members to clean the city as a backup plan, though he acknowledged they did not have adequate vehicles.

“When the rubbish mountains up, it affects tourism, the environment and investment,” he said. “We are worried.”

However, Provincial Governor Yun Min maintained negotiations with Cintri were still ongoing, despite complaints of irregular garbage collection during the rainy season.

“For the time being, the waste in the municipality does not look good, and at the same time, Cintri wants to terminate,” he said.

Thourn Sinan, president of the Cambodia Tourism Federation, said the trash woes are a “big concern”.

“There are going to be issues … affecting our tourism sectors,” he said. “We strongly recommend the Sihanoukville provincial governor to take serious action and find a good company to replace Cintri.”

Meanwhile, Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the government’s backup plan was totally inadequate. The issue, she added, was “an extreme disappointment” given Sihanoukville’s status as a top tourist destination, and the impact could have ripple effects on the international level.

“We have always advertised our coastal areas to be one of the cleanest and the most beautiful amongst other countries, thus, if the beaches are littered with garbage, our whole country’s image will be affected very negatively,” she said.

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