Vann Molyvann: Filling Lake Impractical, Costly

“The essential role of water in this city has been forgotten,” said Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most renowned architect and urban planner. “I am against the filling of the lake of Boeng Kak—completely against it,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

The designer of many of the city’s most prominent landmarks, Vann Molyvann became Phnom Penh’s consulting architect in 1956 at age 30 while already serving as Cambodia’s urban planning director. Having fled the country in the early 1970s, he returned in 1993 and served as minister of culture, fine arts, urban and country planning.

Commenting on the controversial plan to fill in all but 10 hectares of Phnom Penh’s 90-hectare Boeng Kak lake, the 81-year-old said that it could lead to increased flooding throughout the city, particularly in Tuol Kok district.

Vann Molyvann also pointed out that in the 1960s when the government was filling in water areas in the city’s south end, it cost around $400 for each square meter that was filled.

“That was in the ‘60s,” he said, adding that it would cost considerably more now.

Last month Shukaku Inc began construction of a pipeline that will carry sand from the Tonle Sap river to fill in Boeng Kak. City Hall agreed in February 2007 to allow Shukaku to develop the Boeng Kak area by filling in the lake and relocating the approximately 4,000 families living on its shores.

Vann Molyvann believes the city’s proposed on-site relocation plan is not only impractical but al­so unnecessarily expensive. The city has in its possession, he said, another plan for developing Boeng Kak that would not involve filling in more than 88 percent of the lake and would cost practically nothing to implement.

In 2003 urban planners from Paris and Venice, Italy, as part of the European Union’s Asia Urbs program, published a four-year study of the capital’s infrastructure entitled “Phnom Penh, at the Dawn of the 21st Century.”

The study included a plan for the city to develop the lake into a vib­rant and environmentally friendly section of Phnom Penh by filling in and selling off a small section of the lake’s north end.

That plan also involved providing the 20,000 residents living around the lake with land titles.

“What they are proposing here is really possible,” Vann Molyvann said, adding that City Hall has re­jected the plan.

Nowadays, instead of relying on independent qualified professionals to develop the city, he said, the mu­nicipality is placing too much trust in private companies.

“It is now up to Pheapimex to propose plans for the development of Cambodia,” Vann Molyvann added.

CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, who is president of both Shukaku and well-known firm Pheapimex, could not be reached for comment this week.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong rejected Vann Molyvann’s criticism of the city’s development plan, saying that the aging architect needs to catch up with the times.

“He thinks the older generation is always right,” Pa Socheatvong said. “The new generation is not al­ways ignorant—don’t look down on the younger generation too much,” he said.

According to Pa Socheatvong, the development of Boeng Kak lake will benefit the local community because residents will be given apartments on the filled-in lake.

The 10 hectares of lake that will remain unfilled will be more than enough to ward off flooding, he said, and the city will construct a drainage system west of the railway station.

According to the recently obtain­ed minutes of a Nov 19 municipality meeting of eight technical officers regarding the development of Boeng Kak, the city plans to build a pumping system that would drain water and waste to a reservoir in Russei Keo district.

Pa Socheatvong said that the plan proposed by the Asia Urbs program wasn’t implemented by City Hall because it was not cost effective and was also protested against by residents at the lake.

“France’s ideas are not always right,” Pa Socheatvong added.

While City Hall may be planning what will become of the lake, residents around Boeng Kak claim they are still in the dark over the city’s plans.

A rumor that residents will be forcefully evicted from their homes has spread among lakeside residents, many of whom are fearful to talk to reporters.

However Pa Socheatvong said that all 4,000 lakeside families are well aware of the city’s plans and have known for many years that they would have to move.

“People know that they are squatting where they cannot get land titles,” he said, adding that the lakeside residents showed their ap­proval of the development plan during April’s commune elections by voting for the CPP.

“The people support the development plan, that’s why they voted for the CPP,” he said.


Related Stories

Latest News