A developer-commissioned impact assessment of the project planned for Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake maintained that filling in the lake and moving its residents would not cause significant environmental or social problems, assertions that were rejected by independent engineers, housing rights activists and residents.
According to a copy of the environmental and social impact assessment obtained this week, Boeng Kak is a “dead lake” and the community around it lives in “anarchy.”
For those reasons, the Khmer-language assessment said, developer Shukaku Inc’s plan to fill in the lake would not have “major effects on the environment” or “big potential impacts on society.”
The ESIA, completed by Phnom Penh firm Green Consultancy in August, acknowledged that filling the lake might cause some flooding in the area during the rainy season, but was not specific about the levels or extent of potential flooding.
The recommended mitigation measures include construction of a new drainage canal, measuring between 20 and 21 square meters in diameter, once construction is completed on the Boeng Kak site. Alternatively, the ESIA suggested expanding the Baktouk canal to 12 meters wide and the O’Veng canal to 45 meters.
The report contained no description of the methods or calculations used to reach its conclusions about flooding and necessary mitigation measures.
When contacted by telephone Wednesday, Green Consultancy Director Ly Sophor Mony said he was unable to discuss sensitive issues over the phone, and that any interview would have to be scheduled two weeks in advance.
In December, a team of independent Australian engineers released a report predicting that flood levels in neighboring Russei Keo district would rise by as much as 40 cm if filling continues at Boeng Kak lake.
A member of the team that conducted that study said she was unimpressed with Green Consultancy’s ESIA, and could find no evidence of the research done to complete the report.
“My biggest concern is its lack of information on the mitigation measures,” hydrogeological engineer Sally Benham said by telephone from Australia.
She added that none of the ideas put forward in the assessment are sufficient to address flooding in Russei Keo, especially because no construction of canals or drainage systems would be done until after Boeng Kak is already filled.
“We’ve found that those mitigation measures aren’t adequate to mitigate flooding to the areas north of Boeng Kak,” she said, explaining that during heavy rain, water that would normally be held in the lake will now have to go elsewhere.
Benham also pointed out that the ESIA seemed to redirect responsibility for the required mitigation methods away from developer Shukaku. The assessment stipulates that, “to increase the ability of the drainage systems outside the project area should be under the authority of the municipality.”
“There’s no assurance that Shukaku will construct the mitigation measures,” Benham said. “They would be happy to fill Boeng Kak and not do the mitigation.”
Shukaku, which is owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin and his wife Cheung Sopheap, who is the owner of local conglomerate Pheaphimex, have said next to nothing about their plans for the lake since acquiring the rights to the area from City Hall in early 2007. No one from Shukaku could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said Wednesday that all measures to prevent flooding had already been completed.
“City Hall has nothing against the [Shukaku report],” he said. “We have had meetings with the Ministry of Environment and are all in agreement.”
Shukaku’s ESIA also examined the social impacts of the project. In a section on the history of the lake, it stated that the lake is “littered with anarchic constructions, social insecurity, bad environment and is a shelter for terrorists and various criminals.”
In spite of its harsh appraisal of the area, the ESIA mentioned several times that all families currently living on the lakeside must be compensated “equally…in spite of having no land title,” but made no mention of what that compensation should be.
Hallam Goad, an adviser for housing-issues NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, called the report “fairly superficial” in terms of social mitigation.
“It really seems to sidestep the issues of compensation,” he said. “There’s no concrete description of how they’re actually going to work out who gets what.”
On this issue, the company-commissioned ESIA also deflected full responsibility for compensation and resettlement plans from Shukaku.
“We should agree that the company…still does not have enough capacity to handle resettlement,” it said. “The company should contact Phnom Penh municipality and other relevant government agencies as well as NGOs to work on the resettlement issue.”
Municipal representatives have said that residents will be paid about $8,500 to leave their homes, or $500 and alternative housing in the capital’s Dangkao district. Last week, villager representatives said that only 20 percent of residents have accepted compensation.
Boeng Kak resident Pha Rom said she hadn’t seen or heard of the ESIA, but that she has heard officials unfairly use crime and unhygienic conditions to justify evictions from the area. “A lot of people reacted to that,” she said.
Pha Rom added that she has seen a painful conflict building between residents and Shukaku, as well as with City Hall. “If they want people to leave, just resolve the compensation issue properly,” she added.
The ESIA also contained some recommendations for Shukaku, including that the company post the assessment online, along with a detailed description of the plans for the Boeng Kak site. Internet searches conducted Wednesday turned up no such website, and site plans for the future Boeng Kak have not been made public.