Stopping Cambodia’s Reckless Urban Development

State capture has turned the Cambodian government into an agent of private industrial interests, rather than a defender of citizens' interests. To protect those at permanent risk of displacement, the country urgently needs a proper civil registration system and a modern land registry.

Years ago, I spoke to the head of a large factory in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. She was worried that more than 100 of her workers lived in riverside slums around the building. Their homes were on land at risk of flooding, but the workers were more afraid of being expelled from them. With no legal proof of ownership or means of defending themselves, they lived huddled in the factory’s shadow in permanent fear of displacement.

Where there are no property rights, the law of the jungle prevails. And now vulnerable groups, and the capital’s population as a whole, are facing a new danger – the ING City project, which has the makings of an environmental and human disaster.

This project aims to develop the wetlands that cover about 1,500 hectares in southern Phnom Penh and constitute the city’s only wastewater treatment system. They also form the only barrier between the city’s untreated sewage and the fish stocks in the Mekong and Bassac rivers. In addition, about 70% of all rain and wastewater exits the city there, making the wetlands crucial for flood prevention.

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