Instead of living alongside or over Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, many residents of Village 4 now essentially live in it.
Rising water levels mean the lake increasingly surrounds the village’s homes and flows unimpeded over roadways.
The residents who remain in this enclave southeast of the lake place blame for the flooding on heavy rains and the sand that’s being pumped in by private developer Shukaku Inc to fill the lake.
“When we have flooding before, it was because of rain; now it is because of the pumping,” said Chek Sameoun, 57, as minnows swam around his feet. “We have lived here many years. I have not seen anything like it.”
Village4 residents are among those continuing to resist making way for a private, city-approved redevelopment project, which is slated to fill about 90 percent of the lake. An estimated 4,250 Phnom Penh families are being affected, and have been offered compensation in the form of cash or housing in exchange for leaving the area.
Yet despite the flooding, life goes on here. Rubber boots have replaced street shoes. Slick algae coats ramps leading up to the houses and storefronts; Garbage, which was once confined to rubbish piles, now floats freely. Residents hike up pant-legs and sarongs to slosh through shin- and sometimes knee-deep water while going about day-to-day business.
Leng Lakana blames the itchy rash on her feet and an increase in mosquitoes on the lake, which has been directly outside her front door for about three weeks.
“It’s all from the rising water,” she said Wednesday.
The flooding isn’t the only change: There are decidedly fewer homes in Village 4. Constant hammering and the presence of moving trucks loaded with rattan furniture are reminders that more families are leaving on a daily basis.
Pich Sireth, 46, said the flooding is an urgent reminder that her family won’t be able to stay much longer.
“We cannot afford to go anywhere else because we have no money to buy or rent a mainland home because it’s so expensive,” she said, noting that her family currently pays $50 a month in rent. “I cannot sleep. I always lie awake and think, ‘What will we do when we leave this house?’”
Resolution could be coming. Last week, National Assembly President Heng Samrin passed on a request from the Assembly’s human rights and reception of complaints commission, which asks the Phnom Penh municipal authority to “solve” the case in a “reasonable” time period and report back.
The letter, dated Oct 8, was in response to a protest held at the Assembly on Oct 3 where residents asked lawmakers to help them get market-rate compensation in exchange for abandoning their homes.
Village leaders have received a copy of the letter, but have yet to hear from the municipality, said Sin Chany, a village representative.
Municipal Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of the request from the National Assembly but that the city will address it.
So far, about 530 families out of the 4,250 affected by the redevelopment plan have agreed to compensation, he said.