Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hun Sen and His Concrete Jungle

“Phnom Penh will not be a problem [being flooded].”

Premier Hun Sen, 15 September 2000, The Cambodia Daily

“Phnom Penh can’t be flooded. Don’t worry, because lakes in the river system that absorb overflow water are not full to capacity.”

Former Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, 25 July 2000, The Cambodia Daily

“The problem comes from the actual cost that would come with mitigating the damage [by the filling of Boeng Kak]. By the time you’ve considered the level of mitigation that’s required, it would probably make the development unfeasible… There would need to be considerable drainage canals up through the Russei Keo district, and the size of those channels would need to be significant.”

Ben Caddis of BMT WBM (mechanical, water, and maritime engineering consulting firm in Brisbane, Australia), 14 March 2009, The Cambodia Daily

«តាមពិត ខ្ញុំមិនឯកភាពគំនិតថា មកដោយសារយើងលុបបឹង បានលិច ។ មិនមែនទេ ខ្ញុំអត់គិតថាអ៊ីចឹង តែខ្ញុំគិតថា ចំនួនទឹកភ្លៀង និងភាពស្រុតរបស់លូក្នុងក្រុងភ្នំពេញ វាមិនស្រុតខ្លាំងទេ ស្រុតតែបន្តិចទេ ដោយសារយើងមិនបានធ្វើលូរំដោះទឹកភ្លៀងនេះ បានវាលិច ។»

រដ្ឋមន្ត្រី​ក្រសួង​បរិស្ថាន លោក សាយ សំ​អាល់ ថ្ងៃពុធ ទី២៣កក្កដា ២០១៤​ VOD Hot News

“សាលា​រាជធានី​ភ្នំពេញ​បាន​ធ្វើ​ការសិក្សា​លើ​បញ្ហា​នេះ​ [ប្លង់​គោល​នៃ​រាជធានី​ភ្នំពេញ​សម្រាប់​ការ​អនុវត្ត​រហូត​ដល់​ឆ្នាំ​២០៣៥] និង​បាន​បញ្ជូន​ទៅ​កាន់​ក្រសួង​ដែនដី​ នគររូបនីយកម្ម​និង​សំណង់រួច​ហើយ។​ ប្លង់គោល​នេះនឹង​ត្រូវ​អនុម័ត​ដោយ​រាជរដ្ឋា​ភិបាល​ទើប​មាន​សុពល​ភាព​សម្រាប់​យក​ទៅ​អនុវត្តន៍​បាន។”

លោកស៊ីន បូរ៉ាមី ​នាយក​ទីចាត់ការ​រៀបចំ​ក្រុងភ្នំពេញ  ១៣ ខែ តុលា ឆ្នាំ ២០១៤ វីអូអេ

“Prime Minister Hun Sen rejects all of the plans that have been designed. When I ask him why, his answer is simple: ‘To sell the land’.”

Retired architect and urban planner Vann Molyvann, 31 December 2013, Next City

It is somehow impressive the Hun Sen’s vision for concrete buildings in Phnom Penh has come to fruition so spectacularly, making GDP worshippers grin from ear to ear. They may be blind though to what behind the numbers, which reveals far less flattering pictures of urban planning and control, or lack thereof.

Team Hun Sen is adamant Phnom Penh cannot, and will not, be flooded. They are partially right – it is the monsoon rainfalls that have flooded the city so far, not river water, not yet.

First, the city will continue to be flooded with rainwater until there is some serious investment in the sewerage infrastructure and management. A UNDP forecast projects an increase in a one-day rainfall of up to 54 mm, and a five-day rain up to 84 mm. If the projection is reliable, the city’s sewerage system designed more than 60 years ago to take a mere 30 mm of water will continue to fail.

Second, major indicators point to an inevitable flood with river water. Chea Sophara inadvertently offers a clue why and how lakes in and around Phnom Penh save the city from river floods. According to Vann Molyvann, those lakes were purposefully left in the 60s development to collect floodwater. Director of Phnom Penh Public Works and Transport Sam Piseth, upon being prompted, admits the recent flood is due to lake fillings. An independent report by BMT WBM predicts that peak flood levels in Russei Keo will rise as much as 40 cm because of the Boeng Kak development, and that the frequency of floods is also to increase.

Anyhow, the lakes that could save the city, notably Boeng Pong Peay, Boeng Tumpun, Boeng Payap, and Boeng Kak, are no longer there. They have been filled, and made available for rapid residential and commercial development and speculations. The environment minister may want to explain where excessive river water and all year round sewerage wastes that those lakes used to absorb will now go.

As Hun Sen’s “land sale” policy drives the construction boom, he sees no reason to enforce any master plan that would only hinder the development. Developers enjoy a free reign, motivated solely by the thrill of making maximum profits, no matter how often factory floors and ceilings collapse. No wonder a further $2.5 billion worth of concrete buildings is in the pipeline, thanks to Hun Sen who acts as if he owns the lakes or earns huge commissions from land sales. He has successfully developed a concrete jungle with anything goes.

Anyway, city floods – whether from the river or rainfalls – will not unduly impact the skyscrapers’ occupants who live a privileged life above the flood water. Still, to make up for the rush construction job without considering building and safety standards, the concrete jungle may come with parachutes for a practical escape route. Fire engines and water-cannon trucks (acquired for quelling street protests) do not have long enough ladders and hoses for towering inferno. It is a concrete jungle out there.

Ung Bun Ang

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