A multimillion-dollar drainage project funded by the Japanese government promises to ease flooding and improve sanitation in some of Phnom Penh’s poorest areas.
Phnom Penh officials say they have a plan to relocate as many as 600 families displaced by the project. But a Japanese government representative warned that the city must maintain the project to ensure its continued operation.
On Wednesday, Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa formally handed nearly $500,000 to Cambodia to fund a detailed design study for nine projects involving repairs of dikes and channels. The centerpiece is the rebuilding of a pumping station south of Boeung Tompun lake. A road on top of the Tompun dike will be also resurfaced.
In the next dry season the city is expected to begin a project largely intended to enhance drainage in the Tompun watershed, a 17-square-km area that drains into the lake. The area, which encompasses most of the city roughly west of the Olympic Stadium, includes some of Phnom Penh’s poorest neighborhoods.
More than 269,000 residents who face flooding or stagnant water several months out of the year may benefit, according to 1998 census figures.
“This project is very good for Phnom Penh, especially for sanitation and also to improve the environment of Phnom Penh,” Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said.
As many as 600 households live in the way of the project, said municipal Cabinet Chief Mann Chhoeun.
They will each receive 6-by-12 meter plot of land and between $200 and $2,000 in compensation, depending on the size and plantings on their property, he said. They will be settled on up to 26 hectares of newly filled-in land on what is now the lake.
Eighty families have already agreed to the deal, said Mann Chhoeun.
The plan avoids previous problems with squatter relocation, in which squatters were forced a long distance from their homes, he said. The new site includes gardens and tree plantings. “It will be a good atmosphere for the people,” he said.
The project will require an extra $191,000 a year after completion to maintain dikes, roads and especially the pumping station, said Koizumi Yukihiro, assistant resident representative for Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Koizumi said that the Ministry of Finance has in the past balked at approving any money for maintenance of bridges, roads and drainage projects. He cited as an example the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge in Phnom Penh, which was opened in 1995 but has already become a bumpy ride because of a lack of maintenance.
“Without appropriate maintenance, the facility itself will be damaged and could collapse. I hope the agencies understand the importance of maintenance,” Koizumi said.
Poor maintenance after the 1970s has contributed to the decline of the city’s outer dikes and drainage systems, a JICA report states.
Mann Chhoeun said Prime Minister Hun Sen had personally assured Japan that the new facilities would be maintained at the last Consultative Group donor meeting.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
(Additional reporting by Suy Se)