Nearly 100 protestors gathered yesterday morning on a watery stretch of Street K5 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sangke commune in Russei Keo district to rally against the controversial filling in of Boeng Kak lake that residents claim has been flooding streets in the district and destroying homes since last year.
Protestors blame Shukaku Inc, the private firm currently filling the lake with sand and pumping water to Tuol Sangke, for filling their neighborhood with foul-smelling water, has prevented local children from being able to go to school and is a danger to their health.
On an average morning there yesterday, the floodwater was placid. Small boys skipped over half-submerged sandbags and balloon peddlers on bikes splashed down the street.
But one local resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said that every night, water is pumped out of the lake through an underground pipe which connects to a sewer; it then gushes out of the sewer and onto the streets of Russei Keo.
The point from which the water issues into the streets is unassuming—tucked on the ground in front of an auto repair garage—but the resident said that the ensuing geyser can reach half a meter in height, pumps all night and makes noise loud enough for residents to hear.
“When people sleep, the company pumps water,” he said. “We can hear it.”
Near the protest site, a walkway of partially submerged planks led to the home of longtime resident Thou Hok, 65. “The water blew up through the floor boards,” he said, shuffling barefoot through floodwaters swimming with garbage. “My home has been flooding for three months, caused by pumping water from Boeng Kak into my village. It can destroy my home.”
Tuol Sangke commune chief Soy Kosal said that water has been pumped into his commune “every day” going back to last year. He added that City Hall also works every day to pump water out of the commune.
Mr Kosal added that he has previously sent a letter to Shukaku asking it to reduce pumping during the rainy season and to assist City Hall in its efforts to pump water out of his commune. He said he never received a response from Shukaku.
Pa Socheatvong, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, referred all questions to the Municipal Cabinet, officials from which could not be reached yesterday.
A December 2008 report by independent Australian researchers had warned that continuing with the plan to fill Boeng Kak could lead to heavy flooding in Russei Keo district even when the pumping has been completed.
“It should be recognized that not only will flood depths and levels increase, but the frequency of flooding will also increase,” the report stated. “Flood levels for a given return period under existing conditions will occur more frequently following development [of the lakeside area.] The combined effluent and storm water drainage system in Phnom Penh means that any flooding will have a serious water quality and public health implications.”