Flash Floods Spur Criticism of City Hall

Torrential rain caused flash flooding across Phnom Penh on Sunday, inundating homes and businesses and transforming the capital’s dirty boulevards into befouled semblances of Venetian canals.

Early Sunday morning, about 20 residents of the neighborhood around the former Boeng Kak lake—which once acted as a natural drainage pond for the city’s excess water before it was filled with sand in 2010 for a planned development project—waded from their flooded homes under sheets of rain to City Hall, where they accused municipal officials of conspiring to prevent water from draining from the area.

A family stays dry in the trunk of their car parked on a flooded street in Phnom Penh's Boeng Kak neighborhood Sunday. About 60 Boeng Kak residents protested outside City Hall on Sunday, accusing municipal officials of conspiring to prevent water from draining from the area. (John Vink)
A family stays dry in the trunk of their car parked on a flooded street in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood Sunday. About 60 Boeng Kak residents protested outside City Hall on Sunday, accusing municipal officials of conspiring to prevent water from draining from the area. (John Vink)

The protesters were pushed back by district security guards but returned at 3 p.m. with 40 more residents.

“Previously, even when there were heavy rains, it did not flood this badly because they opened up the drainage system,” said Boeng Kak resident and anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, adding that the high water, combined with loose electrical wiring, was also putting lives at risk.

Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng said Sunday’s flooding was due to the heaviest recorded rainfall since 2011—80 mm of water per second at its peak—which overwhelmed the drainage system.

“The rainstorm was so abrupt and so strong and centered totally on Phnom Penh. Most people know that City Hall is not turning a blind eye and that we cannot stop the rain from falling,” he said.

Mr. Sreng also said authorities had been exceptionally tolerant of the Boeng Kak protesters. “If this was the United States, they would be handcuffed,” he said.

Residents of Phnom Penh interviewed Sunday expressed frustration with the local government’s inability to resolve chronic drainage problems, noting that Sunday’s severe flooding followed just a few hours of heavy rain.

“It has stopped raining for four or five hours already but the water has not gone down,” 38-year-old Nut Thim said of the flooding, which forced him to relocate the inventory of the grocery store he runs out of the ground floor of his house in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune.

“It should recede faster than this,” he said.

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