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Water a ‘luxury’ at Prey Sar

A grader levels out a soon-to-be road surface yesterday on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, near Prey Sar prison
A grader levels out a soon-to-be road surface yesterday on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, near Prey Sar prison. Heng Chivoan

Water a ‘luxury’ at Prey Sar

A months-long water shortage at the capital’s Prey Sar prison has led to ill health and fighting among inmates, as prices for the “luxury” commodity continue to soar out of their reach, prisoners and rights groups said yesterday.

According to officials, the water system was cut earlier this year because of construction works outside the facility. But while the majority of inmates are suffering from the shortage, guards and well-connected prisoners have allegedly cashed in.

Speaking from the prison, an inmate who asked to remain anonymous said that the cost of water has hit an all-time high, at “20 times” the pre-shortage price.

The inmate said that he is now forced to pay “an extra $15 a month for water”.

“I see Khmers and foreign nationals bathing in dirty brown water and others fighting for enough to drink,” he said.

The inmate added that the clean water, carted into the facility multiple times every day, has proved lucrative for some.

“Prison guards are falling over themselves to deliver water,” he said. Some have “hired pickup trucks with water tanks on board to profit from the situation”.

“Inmates are fighting to be the middlemen who further inflate prices and collect money,” he added.

Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant at local rights group Licadho, yesterday stressed the importance of water being restored.

“Whilst certain prison officials and well-connected inmates continue to benefit from the profit-driven, trucked-in water supply, we fear there is little urgent incentive to fix this problem,” she said. “In the meantime, some inmates can no longer afford to buy extra water whilst others are forced to work for wealthier inmates to get what they need.”

Prison officials could not be reached yesterday. Other authorities had few answers.

Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons, made light of the shortage.

“Have you come from abroad? Don’t you know the water has been cut off for about one year already?” he joked.

Bunsorn declined to comment on when the “temporary” stoppage would end.

Khat Sokhai, Prey Sar commune chief, said that villagers in the area were experiencing the same issues and assured that the road construction would be completed within two months.

But Saing Piseth, director of the Municipal Department of Public Works and Transportation, said he had already asked for the supply to be reconnected and was unsure why the shortage was ongoing.

Meanwhile, the inmate said, fears inside the prison were growing. “I have reduced my food budget to allow for the luxury of water. As a result, I am losing weight and my health will be damaged.”

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