Sewage Overflow Hits Environment Ministry’s New Expensive Offices

The Environment Ministry is working with Phnom Penh authorities to stem the flow of smelly wastewater from the city’s overloaded sewage system into the waterway behind its new headquarters, officials said on Sunday.

The problem occurred as municipal authorities worked to transition parts of the city’s older drainage system to a newer one built with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), according to ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth.

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A man stands next to the Bassac River behind the Environment Ministry’s office in Phnom Penh on Sunday. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

“The bottleneck is from the connection of the old drainage network to the new one,” he said.

“The old drainage network could not take the volume of wastewater” produced by the building, leading some of the office’s sewage spilling directly into the “small” Bassac River that separates the office from Koh Pich island, Mr. Sophalleth said.

“It’s the responsibility of City Hall, but we are working together,” he said.

In a statement released on Thursday, the ministry said the river outlet had a “very bad smell caused by sewage” and said it was due to blocked drainage that municipal authorities were working to have repaired within 30 days.

Mr. Sophalleth on Sunday downplayed the impact of the spillage.

“Just part of it is going to the river—just when it overflows,” he said. “The smell is not there—just a little bit.”

The ministry’s palatial 18,000 square meter, $8 million Chamkar Mon district building was inaugurated last year.

Wastewater experts have warned that the city’s current sewage treatment, which funnels water to southern lakes that have gradually been infilled, is not sustainable and say trash obstructions threaten to overwhelm drainage canals.

JICA representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ministry is also working on a “very comprehensive” new sub-decree covering wastewater that would require factories and other businesses to better manage their sewage, according to Mr. Sophalleth.

“Some factories do not have a proper treatment plant—it just flows directly into the public sewage,” he said.

The new regulations would be released over the next few weeks alongside a separate sub-decree covering plastic bags, he said.

(Additional reporting by Buth Kimsay)

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