Ministry, municipal and district officials remained strangely silent Tuesday amid accusations over who and what is to blame for the severe flooding that is plaguing Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district.
Floodwater—sometimes waist-deep—has filled roads, schools, government offices and homes for at least a month in the northern part of the capital.
Chan Yutha, a Ministry of Water Resources cabinet member, blamed the flooding on the filling of lakes in the city to make way for private developments, according to an article published in Tuesday’s Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper.
The Khmer-language newspaper reported that according to Chan Yutha: “The reason for heavy flooding is because of development that is filling all the lakes, which is a place for keeping water, and now authorities cannot find a solution in time.”
“The channel for water drainage and lakes were all filled in. In the future, the Ministry of Water Resources will find a solution and not let it flood like this again,” the newspaper reported Chan Yutha as saying.
Contacted by telephone Tuesday, Chan Yutha said he had said all he had to say on the issue and declined to comment further. He referred questions to Nov Saroeun, director of water drainage for the Phnom Penh municipality’s public works department.
Nov Saroeun could not be reached for comment Tuesday, though he was cited in the same news story as saying that the flooding has been almost a meter deep in some areas for several weeks because the city’s drainage system isn’t being used properly.
Nhem Saran, the municipal director of public works, declined to comment on the issue of lake filling and misuse of the drainage system. He referred questions to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.
Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor could not be reached for comment. An assistant who answered the phone of Minister of Public Works and Transport Tram Iv Tek said he was too busy to comment.
Phnom Penh municipal officials also had little to say.
“It’s not my responsibility,” Deputy Municipal Governor Chreang Sophan said.
Russei Keo District Governor Klaing Huot insisted Tuesday that it was impossible for lake filling to be the cause of the flooding.
Ba Yab and Pumpeay lakes—the filled-in lakes in the area of Russei Keo that has been worst hit by flooding—were filled four or five years ago and therefore could not be to blame now, Klaing Huot said.
He also dismissed claims that the recent filling of Boeng Kak lake, and the pumping of water from Boeng Kak into irrigation channels in Toul Sangke commune, also in Russei Keo district, was to blame. The draining of water from Boeng Kak was halted a week ago, he said.
Drains from other areas in the city that normally flow into the drainage system in Toul Sangke commune were also shut down to prevent further flooding there, and as a result water levels have dropped 20 cm in the affected areas of Russei Keo, Klaing Huot said.
“It will all subside by Water Festival,” he added.
In the meantime, district residents say the flooding is causing major difficulties.
Water is knee-high inside Sok Chisen’s Svay Pak commune house, he said.
What’s more, the water is waist-high along the roads near his home, forcing families to use boats for transportation. It has been that way for nearly a month, he said.
Sok Chisen, 39, said he blames the drainage of Boeng Kak on the flooding in his area.
“I appeal to the authorities to stop draining water from Boeng Kak lake for a while, which will make the floodwater subside,” he said Tuesday.
“We also need medicine and equipment for shelters.”
Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most renowned architect, agreed that lakes being filled in could be responsible for the flooding and blamed weak public planning.
“In the past, the municipal public works department had high standards for electricity, water drainage, infrastructure and development,” he said Tuesday.
Now, redevelopment is dictated by “those who have money and power,” which has resulted in poor infrastructure and planning, he said.