Flooding in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district has never been this bad before, residents said Wednesday while surrounded by foul smelling standing water that has been troubling the community for at least a month.
Despite accusations by government officials regarding who and what was to blame for the flooding, and then subsequent, resounding silence, many residents here continue to blame the flooding on the controversial filling of Boeng Kak lake.
Local private development company Shukaku Inc is filling Boeng Kak with sand and funneling the water to Toul Sangke commune using a pump and a canal system that is supposed to then channel the water into the Tonle Sap river.
Residents say that plan is not working and flooding has resulted.
“This is not normal flood water, it is sewage from the toilet with a very bad smell that makes it difficult to live,” said Ta Ny, 70, who has lived in Tuol Sangke commune for the past seven years.
Her one-bedroom apartment was flooded with ankle deep water, in which a toddler played, scooping stinking sewage in and out of a baby-formula bucket.
The family’s apartment building backs onto the O’Veng canal, which has flooded on occasion in previous years, she said, but not like this year.
“The flooding has never been this bad before,” Ta Ny said, wringing her hands.
Homes in Russei Keo aren’t the only buildings affected by the flooding. Knee-deep water levels have been plaguing the district’s Royal University of Fine Arts campus for weeks, rendering the new school almost useless.
And Wednesday, water was knee-deep at Toul Sovanaram pagoda in Tuol Sangke commune, forcing pagoda boys and locals alike to wade through murky water.
“I have never seen flooding like this,” said Men Vanny, 57, who sells snake meat just outside the pagoda gate. She, too, said she thought the flooding was caused by the Boeng Kak lake pumping.
Nhel Path, 29, agreed. The flooding forced him to close his rice vendor business for a week, he said, when his home and shop were surrounded by reeking black water that has given him an itchy, red skin rash.
His family has lived in a home backing onto the canal for two decades, he said, and they have never seen flooding as severe or as foul before.
“I feel very stressed living like this,” Nhel Path said.
Russei Keo District Governor Klaing Huot said Tuesday the pumping of water out of Boeng Kak lake had been halted to prevent further flooding, but Wednesday a municipality-operated pump was running inside the Tuol Kok II Pumping Station.
Workers at the Shukaku-owned pump station on the main section of Boeng Kak lake also said Wednesday they have been pumping water out at night.
“I stop pumping during the daytime because I am afraid of people’s complaints, and it causes too much bad flooding in Tuol Sangke commune, but I still pump at night,” Kong Seab, a pump operator, told reporters.
Pumping continues at Tuol Kok II Pumping Station, which drains a section of Boeng Kak lake, because halting work would flood Tuol Kok district, said Heng Vibol, a guard and machine operator.
Meanwhile, government and emergency services officials gave little explanation about potential solutions to alleviate the flooding Wednesday. And Klaing Huot continued to contend that pumping out of Boeng Kak lake had been halted, and would stay shut down for “maybe” three more days.
“Now the river levels are down nearly 1 meter, so [the flooding] will subside soon,” he said.
“Kep Chuktema, municipal governor, has promised to rebuild all the damaged roads in my district,” he added.
Kep Chuktema was not available for comment Wednesday.
Several senior municipal and Ministry of Water Resources officials declined Tuesday to comment on reports that the flooding was caused by the filling of lakes in the city and misuse of the city’s drainage systems.
Peou Samy, secretary-general of the government’s National Committee for Disaster Management, said the flooding isn’t his organization’s responsibility.
“The amount of rain is less than last year, so it has not caused the flooding,” he said.
“The flooding has been caused from construction in the area,” Peou Samy added.
Aid for the thousands of people affected by the flooding also appears to be in short supply.
The Cambodia Red Cross, which has assisted flood victims in the past, has no plan to offer aid yet, said Chheung Ngan, director of the Phnom Penh Red Cross branch.
“I do not have any plan yet to help because I do not yet have any confirmation from the district branch or authorities,” he said.
Nuth Puthdara, director of the Russei Keo district Red Cross branch, said Wednesday he is in the process of discussing assistance for the flood victims with district authorities.
Once he has gathered data from Russei Keo district authorities on the number of people affected by the almost month-old flooding in six communes, Nuth Puthdara said, he will seek donations.