Record Rainfall Prompts Debate Over Drainage

The storm that swept through Phnom Penh on Saturday evening resulted in the city’s highest rainfall on record, the municipal government said in a statement posted to its Facebook page Sunday.

The record-setting rains left street vendors running for cover, shopkeepers struggling to keep out floodwaters and many of the capital’s roads all but impassable.

City Hall said the total rainfall on Saturday was 103 mm, according to measurements from two weather stations, well above the previous high of 80 mm.

“Generally, the height of the rainfall is 30 mm, so at this height [103 mm], it was a threat to Phnom Penh that caused flooding along a number of streets, and a number of people’s homes suffered due to the flooding,” the statement said.

“We know clearly that the people are really having difficulties, so please prepare and store important things carefully,” it continued. “We will somehow get the drainage system to flow fast everywhere.”

Since 2002, the Japanese government has spent about $105 million on a project to reduce flooding in Phnom Penh. The third phase was estimated to cost $46 million and wrap up by October this year.

Representatives of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment Sunday because it was a Sunday.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, however, said the municipality had been moving ahead with upgrades to the city’s drainage system—installing 50 storm drains in the past year—and that Saturday’s flooding could have been much worse.

“If we hadn’t recently installed the new drains, the flooding situation yesterday would have been more difficult because the rain fell so hard,” Mr. Dimanche said.

In Tuol Kok district’s Boeng Salang commune, Meas Saroeun, 73, the owner of the Heng Heng Grocery Store, said she lost about $700 worth of inventory to Saturday’s flooding, which caused half a meter of water to fill her shop.

“The flooding yesterday looked like a sea…and this was my biggest loss, even though my family members—my sons and daughters—came to help me,” she said. “We could not eat dinner yesterday and I cried when I saw so much of my stuff floating on the water.”

Ly Hour, 25, who runs a barbecue stall with her mother near Kandal market in Daun Penh district, said most of her food and equipment were washed away.

“It was heavy rain, and it came so fast that we could not organize our equipment to go back home,” she said. “We lost what we had to sell, and now we will have to buy new equipment.”

Ee Sarom, executive director of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, an urban housing-rights NGO, said that despite the millions of dollars that Japan had poured into improving Phnom Penh’s drainage system, there was little to show for it.

Mr. Sarom said the rapid filling in of lakes around the city was undermining efforts to reduce flooding through improved infrastructure.

“To stop and to make this effective, they should stop filling the lakes and selling the lakes to the private sector,” he said. “If they are going to continue filling the lakes, where will the water go?”

(Additional reporting by Huot Chanpav, Kim Chan and Colin Meyn)

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