Boeng Kak Families Living Amid Sewage

As the filling of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake by local developer Shukaku quietly continues, some lake­side residents said yesterday they are now not only facing im­pending eviction, but also the problem of being cut off from a sewage system that previously flowed into the lake.

“The water here is daily sewage water,” said Vareach, a 34-year-old resident of Srah Chak commune, while pointing to the stagnant, rancid water that fills the alleys and space underneath the wooden stilt houses in Village Three.

“Previously the water flowed into the lake, but the sewage system has been blocked for two months…. Normally during this time of year it is dry here,” said Ms Vareach, who preferred to only give her first name out of fear of retribution from authorities.

“The sewage water is rising day by day, I worry my house will be flooded,” she said, while looking at the black effluent, now only around 10 cm below the floor of the houses here, which were once located on the edge of the lake.

Around 28 families living in the low-lying part of Village Three have been suffering from the health impact of the sewage water under their houses, said Sreng, 34, another villager who declined to give his family name.

“This water we cannot touch. Af­ter we touch it we have to wash our skin quickly or else we get itching skin,” he said, adding that “the smell is awful and people are getting sick, there are also a lot of mosquitoes.”

Srah Chak commune chief Ch­hay Thirith said he and a deputy governor of Daun Penh district had visited the village to see the situation after he received a letter of complaint from the residents last week.

He said the village was flooded because sewage pipes running into Boeng Kak lake and into a small lake in Boeng Kak One commune in Toul Kok district were blocked as both lakes were now filled with sand ahead of Shukaku’s residential and retail construction.

Mr Thirith said the raw sewage in Village Three could only be pumped out with proper ma­chines, adding, “I have requested the district governor to pump the water from this area into the big sewage system of Russian Bo­u­levard. This will happen maybe next week.”

Apart from their immediate concerns over the rising gunk beneath their houses the villagers feared eviction was imminent, Mr Sreng said. “We also worry about eviction. It started all around Boeng Kak. We heard we are next.”

The lake area, originally home to about 4,000 families, has been granted to local developer Shuka­ku-which is owned by a CPP senator and his wife, the head of local conglomerate Pheapimex-and compensation and relocation plans for the community have been protested by villagers and housing rights NGOs. A group of international engineers warned in a report earlier this year that the disappearance of the lake would severely impair the city’s drainage system.

At news conference yesterday morning, human rights umbrella group the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, the Housing Rights Task Force, NGO Forum and Adhoc, again voiced their concerns over forced evictions of poor communities in Phnom Penh and the impact of the Expropriation Law, which was passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday and allows the government to seize property for public projects.

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring at Adhoc, said, “According to a recent study 74 communities out of 410 poor urban communities in Phnom Penh have received a government letter to leave on a short notice.”

For this reason, Mr Chakrya said, the NGOs have drafted recommendations for the government with regard to the planned evictions and resettlements in the capital, which NGOs say would displace around 20,000 families, or around 100,000 people.

The recommendations, issued in a joint statement, included establishing adequate compensations for resettled families, a moratorium on evictions until there are good resettlement policies, in­stalling mechanisms for resolving housing and land rights violations, and guarantees of legal tenure and land title in accordance with the 2001 Land Law.

“We also worry that when the Expropriation Law comes into effect the law will make it easier for the government and municipal and provincial authorities to seize properties like land under the excuse of developing infrastructure,” Mr Chakrya said

In recent days NGOs and opposition parties have criticized the expropriation law for employing vague language and leaving large loopholes that can be abused.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said civil society groups concerned about the new law did not “understand” the law.

“They don’t understand about this law-[they] don’t know anything. This law is to seize private property that has a legal status. It does not aim at those living in anarchy,” he said, in an apparent reference to poor urban communities.

On Dec 16, Phnom Penh Mu­ni­cipality issued a notice that excluded 2,597 families in seven poor communities in Chamkar Mon district from ever receiving land titles because land title adjudication for the communities was deemed “too complex” and the communities were allegedly involved in land disputes or were living on public land.


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