Flooding is a common occurrence during the rainy season in Cambodia—Phnom Penh City is no different. But why is a major city with so much urban infrastructure still flood?
Phnom Penh is seeing rapid population growth. In last 10 years, the biggest reason for the increasing population is the migration of people from rural areas who come to Phnom Penh in search of economic and education opportunities. In 2012, there were over 2,300,000 people living in the city.
The lack of a master plan is a serious factor that has led to flooding in the city. For instance, there are no required flood mitigation regulations for individual buildings in the city. While in the surrounding provinces, buildings are being built in response to the flood—raised, floating, and stilted homes—such constructions have nearly disappeared in Phnom Penh. As the city develops, many residents are left vulnerable without a master plan. About ten percent of Phnom Penh’s population have been displaced in the past twenty years. The drainage systems have to be changed frequently in order to cope with the flooding water caused by the poor urban planning.
Furthermore, filling the lakes around the city is a major cause of flooding. Lakes, such as Boeung Kak, are being filled with sand to create land for big development firms. This process raises controversial human rights and environmental concerns. For example, Boeung Kak Lake has been granted to Shukaku Incorporated Company for development, which covers nearly 90 hectares. The company has filled the lake completely, which blocked the waterways.
Compounding the issues of flooding is the lack of park space or open spaces to absorb rainy season waters. The inner Khans are home to a series of formal parks and gardens but they are often hardscape, formally planted and home to decorative, rather than functional water features.
We observed that, although flooding in the city is rarely a direct cause of death, it often damages people’s businesses, which they depend on to make a living. Some cannot work for an entire day when there is heavy rain. In addition, some people’s houses get flooded while some students miss their classes because it is impossible to drive to school.
City Hall has said they are prepared to help residents with this issue. They have installed equipment to pump the water out of the city. In addition, they have ordered authorities in each district to clean the drainage systems in their local areas.
However, authorities tend to use poor quality materials when building drainage systems. This combined with filling the lakes, and the lack of green parks has only aggravated the situation.
We would like to see the Royal Government of Cambodia to discuss this problem with all relevant agencies to find the proper solution to the intolerable levels of flooding in Phnom Penh.
Shelby Doyle (2012), Phnom Penh City of Water, Phnom Penh (Sahmakum Teang Tnaut)