Photo Exhibit Documents Neighborhood Repair

A photo exhibition one year in the making will open this morning at 8:30 at the Municipal Exhibition Hall, the red Khmer-style building near the fountain adjacent to Wat Phnom.

The photos, to remain on display through Sunday, document the progress of two pilot projects aimed at helping 20,000 city residents identify and tackle a variety of problems in their own neighborhoods, from litter to road paving and sewers.

The projects were a collaborative effort between the UN Edu­cational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Municipality of Phnom Penh; students at the Royal University of Fine Arts and residents of Phsar Kandal II and Chey Chumnea communes.

Students surveyed the neighborhoods to see what problems existed and what the residents wanted to fix.

The two communes are quite different, with Phsar Kandal II densely populated by mostly low-income people and Chey Chum­nea, adjacent to the Royal Palace and renovated waterfront area, less crowded and more affluent.

Both, however, suffered from drainage and sewage problems stemming from their rapid repopulation after the Kh­mer Rouge regime was toppled in 1979, when many new residents unfamiliar with city living broke open water mains to gain access to water and developed the habit of throwing gar­bage into empty areas.

While the city has installed a new water distribution system in recent years, about 13 percent of residents are too poor to hook into it.

People in both communes said the biggest problem was drain­age and sewage, followed by garbage accumulation, “access and paving,” and conditions in the maze of alleyways and lanes that connect the dwellings.

Most houses have toilets connected to the city sewage system, but residents said it often overflowed during the rainy season creating serious health problems for people living nearby.

While about two-thirds of residents said they threw trash directly into city trucks, one-third said they left it on the street for pickup, which led to garbage being scattered on the streets.

The project distributed guidelines in Khmer to residents attending meetings aimed at showing citizens how to identify problems and work to solve them, including how to properly install sewers.

Small projects were designed and tackled, from cleaning up specific dumpsites to bigger paving and sewer projects. Res­idents contributed money if they could, and gave their labor if they couldn’t.

Commune officials worked to teach residents how to better handle their garbage and encouraged people to plant trees and flowers as the condition of streets and lanes improved.

According to municipal rec­ords, the entire cost of the two projects was $17,765, with $2,369 contributed by residents and Unesco contributing most of the rest.

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