Moan Sarang, a vendor near Wat Phnom, remembers when the rainy season in Phnom Penh meant being chest-deep in water and disgusting debris.
“I had to almost swim across to a dry area,” she recalls. And “the goods were no good anymore because of the dirty water getting into the cart.”
This year, she and other business owners in the capital said they noticed a big improvement. Sure, it helped that it didn’t rain as much as usual. But even when it did, the rainwater would often only take one or two hours to drain in most parts of the capital, rather than the five to six hours it used to take.
“Yes, the flooding around the area has gotten much better,” Moan Sarang said last week.
Officials credit the improvement to a $6-million citywide facelift during the last dry season to replace rusted sewer pipes, repair roads, and install lights and traffic signals.
Not only has the project benefited businesses, but it also has meant that fewer schools have closed and it is easier to navigate city streets after a heavy rain.
Funding for the project came from the Finance Ministry, contractors, NGOs and in-kind donations from local people, said Keo Savin, the municipality’s public works director. As part of the financing arrangement, city officials said earlier this year that over the next five years they would transfer tax revenues from shop owners to the contractors who helped fund the project,
Keo Savin estimated that flooding improved by 60 percent to 70 percent in most of the city’s districts, particularly Chamkar Mon, Don Penh and Dangkao.
At the Le Deauville restaurant near Wat Phnom, water from heavy rains last year flooded the street in front and occasionally flowed into the restaurant, damaging the furniture.
“A year ago, floods were a big problem. My restaurant had to close early because there were no customers. Floods made it difficult for people to travel,” said Andre Calabro, the restaurant’s owner. He said the situation has gotten better.
A nearby noodle-and-gas shop owner agreed that the situation has improved. “Two-and-half years ago, the floods rushed directly into the restaurant, making it hard for customers to eat without getting their feet soaked. [This year] we had customers who ate through the floods knowing that the water will drain in an hour.”
Sar Muoning, a shop owner on Monivong Boulevard, said the sewer improvements have made her life easier. She and her husband live in their shop and in previous rainy seasons, “the water reached to my bed,” she said.
Despite the improvements, Phil Latimier, director for the Center for Banking Studies, said more needs to be done.
He complained that it still is virtually impossible to get around during the floods without problems. “My expensive shoes get ruined when I ride my motorbike through the floods around Wat Phnom,” he said.