Monday, 20 October 2014

Hun Sen's Flooded Parade

«ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋរបស់យើងមេត្តាយោគយល់ផងដែរទៅលើបញ្ហាស្ថានភាពនៃការលិចផ្លូវក្នុងពេលភ្លៀងធ្លាក់ខ្លាំងម្តងៗ។ ម្សិលមិញនេះភ្លៀងធ្លាក់ប្រមាណជា ៧០ ទៅ ៨០មិល្លីម៉ែត្រអ៊ីចឹងទោះ បីជាយើងមានលូធំជាងហ្នឹងក៏មិនអាចដោះរួចទេ ទីក្រុងប្រទេសខ្លះក៏លិចលង់លើសពីទីក្រុងយើងទៅទៀត ព្រោះម្សិលមិញហ្នឹងវាមកមួយភ្លែត​​គឺសម្បើមពេក»

នាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រី ហ៊ុន សែន ២៩ កញ្ញា២០១៤​

“I totally agree with Prime Minister Hun Sen. We should not stop developing the city. We have worked so hard since the city looked like a city of ghosts.”

Chhay Rithysen, director of the municipality’s Bureau of Urban Affairs, The Cambodia Daily, 22 January, 2004

“It has stopped raining for four or five hours already but the water has not gone down. It should recede faster than this.”

Grocery store owner Nut Thim in Srah Chak commune, 29 September 2014, The Cambodia Daily

“We cannot predict how many years it will take to stop this problem … because the rain is difficult to manage.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, 30 September 2014, The Phnom Penh Post

“Technicians will need another 8 years to free Phnom Penh from floods.”

Director of Phnom Penh public works and transport Sam Piseth, 6 June 2014, Radio France Internationale

Phnom Penh is booming, definitely. On construction grounds, many condominiums and high-rises are racing to reach the sky. On paper, there are more to come; in the first half of this year alone the construction sector attracts $2.5 billion of foreign investments. Developers are smiling at the next growth engine for the economy. This is indeed an impressive response to Hun Sen’s call only ten years earlier for skyscrapers in Phnom Penh.

Then come rains that flood Hun Sen’s parade. The rain is traditionally hailed by worshippers as blessings from the sky - usually the more the merrier, especially in countryside. The latest rainstorm in the city, however, is so severe that one may wonder why there is so much blessing. It takes longer than four hours for the flood it has caused to begin receding in Srah Chak.

Sam Piseth gives three reasons why the city flood is inevitable. First, the rain on that particular day pours 92 mm of water into the sewerage system that can take only 30 mm. He says the total length of pipes – small in diameter – in the city is 469 km, which is only 12% of what the city needs. Thus, while the city expands with more roads, the pipes have not.

Second, the current drainage infrastructure is more than half a century old and dilapidated; it has relied on pumps that are of limited capacity to move water. Hence, the city must remain flooded longer.

Third, another major factor is rubbish piles that Phnom Penh residents throw into the system, blocking the drainage flow. About 50 to 60 truckloads of garbage per week find their way into the pipes. Again, this is another problem that persists as if there is nobody effectively enforcing any regulations, allowing the residents to treat the sewerage pipes as their refuse tips.

Therefore, the government of the last 35 years – with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency on sewerage projects since 1999 – has firmed up the following legacy of working with and fighting against water in Phnom Penh: the dilapidated drainage system that remains in disrepair, grossly inadequate, and is routinely blocked with household rubbish.

Sam Piseth claims the Phnom Penh flooding will linger for eight more years, while Long Dimanche has no idea when the city will ever be flood free; he may just resort to praying for less blessing. Some logical questions remain, however. Is the government incompetent, and what really drives Hun Sen’s decisions?

Hun Sen has not even managed to at least get the public to appropriately dispose of their rubbish. Hun Sen does not even understand that pipes with a wider diameter will somewhat help ease the flow, ceteris paribus. He may be right though that other cities suffer from worse floods; perhaps, what he has in mind is Italy’s Venezia, which some say is permanently flooded.

Nonetheless, it seems Hun Sen will continue – like a broken record – begging for public patience, confident that any excuse of his is good enough.

Ung Bun Ang

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