Behind the NagaCorp Casino and concealed by a motley collection of wooden shacks, one of Phnom Penh’s nine sewage outlets oozes raw waste into the Bassac River.
Since Cambodia’s time as a French protectorate, untreated waste has streamed out of Daun Penh district’s drainage system, creating fetid creeks on the riverbank that snake through the undergrowth toward the water.
About 100 meters downstream from the outlet, a makeshift community of fishermen and their families is found, where dozens of rickety boats are anchored and children play in waters thickened and blackened by the untreated waste.
“Maybe the city should not release the sewage like this because it affects the water we depend on,” fisherwoman Sen Lika, 40, said on Monday. Ly Yusof, a 30-year-old fisherman, concurred.
“The water in the Bassac River is ugly and a bit pungent because there is sewage released from city households. When we need usable water for cooking, I have to take the boat out to the Mekong to fetch water,” he said, adding that the Mekong River is considerably cleaner.
Municipal officials say they share the fishermen’s’ worries, and are working to amend the situation.
“We are working step by step to improve this problem,” said Chiek Ang, the municipality’s environment department director. However, the river’s water is “not an alarming environmental concern,” as it is being sullied by household rather than industrial waste, he added.
The city’s nine sewage pipes feed into the Bassac River at various points in Chamkar Mon and Daun Penh districts, said Nov Saroeun, chief of the municipality’s sewage and pumping unit. During the rainy season, the pipes are sealed to prevent floodwater from entering them and flowing inward. During that time, all waste is treated at the sewage plant at Boeng Trabek in Chamkar Mon district, he said.
The municipality and the Japan International Cooperation Agency are working on plans to build a new sewage network to divert waste from the river to the Boeng Trabek plant, he said, though he added: “I cannot say how much longer it will take place.”