Piles of rubbish on the banks of the Siem Reap River are set to cost the communities that live there, with residents anticipating their eviction from the area following elections this July.
Siem Reap – Residents living along the Siem Reap River in the provincial town said they expected to be evicted following national elections in July, after having been warned not to throw rubbish into the water.
“We can’t complain because we live here illegally,” said 58-year-old Kry Yen, who moved from her village in Kandal province to the riverside a decade ago.
She said the authorities have told her several times that she would be asked to move, and that the most recent word was that it would take place after the election.
“I know my family will lose our business. But I hope there is compensation to move all the families, not just the poor like us,” she said.
Yen said she pays 5,000 riel per month to a private rubbish collection company and never throws rubbish into the river, although she said others do.
More than 600 families live in huts along the river and some have squatted there illegally for more than ten years.
Suon Vicheth, deputy director of the environment department at Siem Reap, said his staff have told the riverside residents not to pollute the water but that the warnings were ignored.
“I think it’s time to move them away from the river,” Vicheth said. “If we continue to allow them to stay on it causes more pollution and it’s a shame for the tourists.”
Vicheth said the provincial authority has informed the residents about their removal and has already prepared a site at Banteay Srey district for them to move to.
Ngok Thanh, 53, living on the west side of the river, said the rubbish was “unfortunate.”
“It is not easy to change people’s habits,” Thanh said. “They know it’s damaging when they throw rubbish into the water, but they still do it again and again.”
Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Tourism Working Group for the Government Private Sector Forum, said he raised the issue of cleaning up the riverside many times with the provincial authorities as well as with the Ministry of Tourism.
“It affects the tourists, who want to relax on the riverside in the evening,” Vandy said. “If the river is full of rubbish and smells bad, how can they relax?”
Siem Reap Deputy Governor Ung Oeun said the provincial authority is waiting to see the budget from the government for removing the residents and rehabilitating the river, which he estimated will cost roughly $3 million.
He said the residents will be relocated to Angkor Thom and Banteay Srey districts, some 15km north of Siem Reap town.
“We have already arranged the location and we’re waiting for the budget from the government,” Oeun said. “We could not let them stay on and on.”