Nop Kin isn’t sure why the water that covers the floor of her house in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district is green, but she knows it’s been there for about a week and it’s getting higher every day.
Local NGO workers think the yellowish-green hue to the murky mess in Srah Chak commune’s Village 4 probably has something to do with the fact that more than 2 tons of solid waste—including some medical waste—go into the nearby Boeng Kak lake every day.
For the last week, overflow from the lake has been flooding the roads and houses in Village 4. The flooding was several centimeters deep in many people’s homes Thursday and nearly half a meter at points along the village’s road.
This isn’t the first time floods have plagued the area during monsoon season, but villagers say this time it isn’t just rainwater that’s causing the deluge.
“They’ve filled in part of the lake,” said Huoth Sarin, 54, who has lived in Village 4 since 1993 with her six-member family. Bricks held up shelving units and electrical appliances in her house in an attempt to keep them out of the fetid water.
Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith said the main reason for the flooding is that another lake in Russei Keo district that usually absorbed some of the spill-off from Village 4 has been filled in.
“When it rains, the water flowed north and now it flows to [Boeng Kak]. At the lower area, they have already filled in the lake. They have all built villas, flats and factories on Boeng Bayap [lake] in Tuol Sangke commune,” he said, wagering that the flooding problem would resolve itself in November when Boeng Kak is also due to be pumped out and filled with sand.
Numerous experts, however, have predicted the opposite outcome if Boeng Kak is filled in.
Renowned urbanist and architect Vann Molyvann has said on many occasions that the haphazard filling-in of lakes in Phnom Penh threatens the fragile drainage system of the city and risks catastrophic flooding like Village 4 is currently experiencing.
Srun Phana, the coordinator of an NGO Bridges Across Borders community center in the village, said Thursday that hers is the only organization she knows of trying to stem some of the hardships that have accompanied the flooding in Village 4.
The NGO has provided skin cream and rubber boots to many villagers who have developed skin irritations and fungal infections.
Nop Kin raised her foot from the water inside her home, revealing red sores around the bottoms of her feet and on the soles.
“I try not to step in the water,” she said, heeding the advice of NGO workers. “But I cannot avoid it because I have to do housework.”
Against the backdrop of soggy piles of trash collecting in the recesses between houses, two sprightly 14-year-old boys—Sek Champra and Hom Hoy—couldn’t be more pleased with their good fortune.
Floating by on a slab of Styrofoam they pulled out of the dump, Sek Champra had a small plastic bag stuffed with riel tied to his belt.
“It’s 500 riel [$0.13] a ride. We made 15,000 riel [$3.75] today!” he said, a big smile on his face.
A few meters away, a syringe bobbed in the water.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)