A child walks past an open sewer in Andong Village, 20km outside Phnom Penh.
Twice a week, Dr Horng Lairapo makes the 20-kilometer trip from Phnom Penh to the resettlement community of Andong.
In 2006, a Phnom Penh neighbourhood known as Sambok Chap (Bird’s Nest) was uprooted by force and moved to Andong. Two years later, about 1,500 Sambok Chap families are still living in Andong without clean water, schools, hospitals or electricity. Many are unemployed, and there are still no paved roads or permanent buildings.
“There are currently 1,554 families here,” said village leader Sok Chham. “444 families can claim to own the land upon which they live and the rest live in a state of limbo, not knowing if they are settled temporarily or permanently.”
But the most serious issue facing the people in Andong is the lack of access to medical care, according to Horng Lairapo, a physician working with human rights group Licadho.
To gain access to the settlement, the doctor must squeeze through a gap in a barbed-wire fence.
“It’s very difficult to get in this way,” said Horng Lairapo after tearing his sleeve on the wire. “I’m concerned about what will happen if someone needs urgent treatment. I can’t get here fast enough.”
Lack of sanitation makes disease a looming threat. “The whole village is full of streams of stagnant water, and the mosquitoes thrive in it,” said the doctor, pointing out swarms of mosquito larvae in the pools of green water that line the makeshift streets.
“The community environment is very dirty, and there is really bad sanitation,” said Hang Abrahamsinting, president of the Organisation of Development for the People of Cambodia and pastor of the nearby Rock of Salvation church, who has built 340 thatched-roof huts for the inhabitants.
“There are few toilets, so most people defecate all over the land. There are piles of garbage surrounding their houses. These things affect children’s health far more than adults.”
Raw sewage regularly rises up after rainstorms, noted Horng Lairapo.
“Dirty water just sits in the pipes and doesn’t drain out of the village, so when it rains it all just runs into the streets. As people do not have clean water to drink, diseases like typhoid are another problem,” he said.
“I see lots of cases of dengue fever, particularly in children. As many children are malnourished and do not get enough vitamins from their diet, it’s easier for them to contract diseases and these diseases are fatal more frequently.”
The village clinic, created by Licadho in cooperation with the municipal health department, opens twice a week when Horng Lairapo visits the community, but is two kilometers from the resettlement village.
“The clinic here is far from comprehensive but at least it provides some basic medical treatment for the villagers,” said Arianne Jong, an American intern at the clinic. The clinic provides free tetanus vaccinations and immunisations for young children against polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis B.
Chan Tha, 29, visited the clinic with his daughter, telling the Post, “I always bring my daughter here for treatment by the Licadho doctor. She’s four years old and has dengue fever and chest problems.”