Riverbank house collapses have become the norm in Cambodia. But whether this has deterred existing residents, who are still safe for now, from moving to safer grounds remains a clear no.
Thousands of families in Phnom Penh still go about their daily lives living in perilous homes perched on the edge of Phnom Penh’s four prominent rivers.
The capital’s four rivers are the upper Mekong, the lower Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Bassac. Besides acting as a waterway and providing fertile land for agriculture, these areas have been home to locals for thousands of years. The rise of population and land prices in this property-centric era now sees the areas along the riverbank become mainstay homes to thousands of families almost in their entirety – despite the obvious dangers and threat to life.
Every year, the riverbank does not spare homes from tumbling into the waters.
2014 witnessed 12 houses plunging into the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, resulting in three fatalities. In 2015, 10 houses were seriously damaged by the collapse of an embankment at the Tonle Sap in Russey Keo district. Most recently, in December last year, three houses found their fate in the waters of the Mekong in Kratie’s Chhlong district.
On the commercial side of things, and indifferent to the perils of these riverbank houses, real estate experts claim that the lands along the riverbank are priced well compared to other plotted lands of similar size.
Chrek Soknim, CEO of Century 21 Cambodia, said the land close to the river is generally coveted. “A good environment, clean and fresh air, and a nice natural view of the river are the factors in making life better, so you can say that the land in those areas is doing well.”
In the real estate sphere, Soknim said, “You have to think about the legality of the property. Developers have to be informed on the distance legally allowed from the riverbank or waterway to construct their buildings.” He added that large plotted lands along these water banks are normally invested into larger developments.
Echoing Soknim’s explanation, Kim Heang, president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association, said: “In short, most of the plotted land along the riverbank attract large and tall multi-purpose development projects rather than minor or family-type projects because of its natural environment and profitable advantages thereafter.”
Nonetheless, Heang added, “In Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh, there is so much land along the river, which is an attractive feature for big developers looking to build hotels, condos, and resorts.”
Yet, he is still unaware on the permitted distance between the riverbank and buildings approved to be built in proximity due to the vague nature of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) in dishing out clear guidelines.
Seng Lot, spokesman for the MLMUPC, was unavailable for comment.
As for the residents living in the unstable houses along various riverbanks in Phnom Penh, Sok Sambath, district chief of Prek Pnov – located along the Tonle Sap riverbank where many people are residing – said, “Most of the people here have been living along the riverbank for a long time. The geographic sub-decree has only been around since the 1990s, so it’s tough to implement the law.”
He remains uninformed on the clear distance that buildings have to be from the riverbank.
He added, “From the primary data that our team has entered into the database a few years ago, in only two communes, Prek Pnov and Samrorng, there are already over 1,000 families residing along the riverbank.”
Met Measpheakdey, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman, told Post Property via phone yesterday: “From my understanding, the City Hall has set a clear distance allowed from the riverbank.
“But I do not remember the exact measurement.”