The annual Water Festival arrives Saturday, bringing with it exciting boat races, an expected 1.5 million visitors, and potential logistical headaches for municipal officials—especially with regards to waste management.
Pa Socheatvong, Phnom Penh deputy governor, estimates that the population of the capital will essentially double during the three-day festival, but insists that the city is standing at the ready.
“I think we have arranged enough toilets for the crowds of people and boat racers this year,” Pa Socheatvong said.
He said that 50 portable toilets, along with the already-installed 30 permanent public toilets, will be more than enough to handle the estimated 1.5 million visitors.
Some would disagree.
In 2005, then-deputy municipal governor Mam Bun Neang said 200 public toilets had been installed for the three-day event, but boat racers still complained that the toilet facilities remained inadequate for the heaving crowds.
Boat racers from around the nation, as well as from Thailand and Vietnam, have already started descending upon Phnom Penh.
Approximately 30,000 boat racers will be participating in the festival and will be setting up temporary residences on the Chroy Changva peninsula, across the river from the Royal Palace.
Mam Bun Neang added that the city will set up 10 different stations where people can receive emergency medical care and that water and electricity will be provided for the racers’ temporary encampment.
“Where there is no clean water we will transport it by truck to them,” he said.
Pich Saroeun, chief of Chroy Changva commune, explained that the racers and their families will be staying in schools and under plastic sheeting near the riverbank.
For the visitors, 30 holes will be dug in the ground for use as toilets.
But with one million people expected to visit the peninsula, 30 holes may not be enough, he said.
“I think waste and human waste will leave a terrible smell for Chroy Changva residents,” Pich Saroeun said.
On the other side of the Tonle Sap river, Som Sreng, a 34-year-old toilet supervisor working on Sisowath Quay, said she expects to be busy during the festival and that she will be charging 200 riel per customer.
“I have good business once a year,” she said.
Daily garbage collection and street sweeping will also be addressed and the City Public Works Department and private garbage collector Cintri (Cambodia) Co Ltd will be working closely together, Pa Socheatvong said.
Seng Chamroeun, deputy director of Cintri, said Phnom Penh can expect approximately 250 tons of extra waste per day during the Water Festival.
Phnom Penh currently produces about 1,000 tons of waste per day, he said.
Cintri has hired an additional 360 employees for garbage collection and street sweeping and will be placing 400 garbage bins at various focal points around the city, he said.
The biggest obstacle facing the clean-up operation is that Cambodian people don’t like throwing their garbage in the supplied containers.
“We have a bin for them, but they don’t put,” he said.
In previous years, Seng Chamroeun said, the firm tried to create public awareness by advertising, but it was unsuccessful.
On the government’s end, Cheap Sivorn, the municipality’s director of environment, said his department will lead 150,000 to 200,000 school students around the city to pick up garbage after the festival.
“We all need to help to clean up the city within one day,” he said.
Pa Socheatvong called on revelers to behave in an orderly manner, adding that NGOs will be handing out condoms at Wat Botum, Wat Ounalom and Hun Sen Park.
“This is a good opportunity to do an education campaign for AIDS,” he said.
Oeu Pok, 76, a manager for boat racers from Koh Thom district in Kandal province, said his team brought their own generator but that he was concerned about food and water shortages, as well as the lack of toilets.
He said he remembers his and other teams lining up for long periods of time last year at toilets on Chroy Changva.
He added that he wished the municipality would organize the event better for the racers, as it gets confusing at times knowing what to do.
“We don’t know what the city has prepared for us. We just came to Phnom Penh and found a place for our team to set up.”