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Well, somebody’s gotta do it

Residents clean rubbish from a canal in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district
Residents clean rubbish from a canal in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district yesterday to improve drainage and in response to claims they were responsible for flooding last year. PHAK SEANGLY

Well, somebody’s gotta do it

About 90 locals living along a fetid canal completed a four-day voluntary cleanup yesterday aimed at improving drainage, three years after they were allegedly ordered to vacate the area because their household trash was choking the waterway and exacerbating flooding.

The locals – who belong to eight communities comprising 540 families living along the nearly 1.5-kilometre canal – gathered in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune yesterday bearing banners promising to stop dumping trash in the canal, which reeks of sewage, and espousing their desire to “develop this place”.

Community leader Phou Kun, 52, said locals had initiated three such cleanups since 2013, cooperating with NGOs and local authorities. Villagers, he said, had dredged tonnes of debris from the tunnel for each of the past four days.

Local Chan Seakheng, 31, said municipal authorities had offered them two choices.

“First, [move] to a new location, and second, develop this place. But all the villagers want the second choice, to develop this place, because we have schools, markets, and this [area] is in the city,” she said.

Nov Chansokha, 52, one of three women to brave the stinking, black, chest-high water, said that while she had grown accustomed to the smell, the water could still cause some itching at first. But she would “endure it and be patient”, she added.

“We’re clearing the rubbish in order to help the environment and to avoid flooding in Phnom Penh, and so we’re not blamed for living here,” she said.

District administration officer Long Nhet said authorities had never received an eviction letter, but still welcomed the effort to “make the environment cleaner together”.

And while the city had never initiated eviction measures, the villagers nevertheless wanted to “proactively respond to the public accusation that the people of [Stung] Meanchey caused big flooding in the city in 2013,” said Savoeurn Sou of Equitable Cambodia, an NGO that aided in the cleanup.

They agreed “to clean the canal by themselves to prove to the public and the authorities that they are not the people who caused the problem but they are the ones to be part of the solution”, he said.

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