A torrential downpour lasting around 3 hours on 28 September 2014 left parts of Phnom Penh flooded, with some areas under as much as 50 cm to 80 cm of flood water.
The drainage system was unable to cope and as a result, the city’s authorities have come in for some strong criticism. So strong in fact that Prime Minister Hun Sen was prompted to intervene yesterday, where he promised action in addressing the city’s inadequate flood control.
Much of the criticism has come from residents of Boeung Kak, which has been one of the worst affected areas and where deep stagnant water from the flood still remains, over 3 days after the initial downpour.
Boeung Kak is an area to the north of the city that was, until around 5 years ago, a lake and large stretch of wetland. In 2007 the area was leased to Shukaku Incorporated. They embarked on the what is now known as the Boeung Kak land project, which involved filling in the 90 hectare lake for building land.
Boeung Kak is one of six lakes in Phnom Penh that have been lost in similar way over the last decade. Boeng Pong Peay, Boeung Snouv, Boeung Reak Reay, Boeung Trabek, Boeung Kak and Boeung Tumpuon have all been filled for land development after being leased to development companies by the Cambodian government.
No Place for Storm Runoff
Apart from the forced mass evictions and questionable legality, filling in the city’s lakes would inevitably bring problems in dealing with floods.
The lakes used to play an important role in reducing storm runoff for the surrounding areas. This is especially important during the rainy season (usually May to October). A lake the size of Boeung Kak (around 90 hectares) and Boeung Pong Peay in Russei Keo district (around 120 hectares) would have been able to hold large amounts of storm water during the type of monsoon downpour that hit Phnom Penh on Sunday, in a similar way to Lake Powai in Mumbai, India (although Mumbai has its own problems with drainage and the Mithi River).
Boeung Pong Peay Lake
Boeung Kak Lake
It is also likely that ground water in and around the area of recently filled lakes is quite high, the therefore floods more quickly. By filling in the lakes, developers have removed a significant piece of the city’s drainage system and replaced it with building land highly prone to flooding.
Residents of Boeung Kak have been vocal in their criticism of the city’s approach to flood control. Yesterday around 50 residents of Boeung Kak blockaded the street outside Phnom Penh City Hall in protest at the ongoing flood situation. Violence broke out between residents and police after similar protestations were made in October 2010, not long after work on filling the lake had been completed.
Phnom Penh authorities were quick to point out that the rain on Sunday 28 September was some of the heaviest seen in the city since 2011. But it’s not the initial floods that are of most concern to Boeung Kak residents. It’s the fact that the flood water has not been able to drain away and flood water remains across may areas. Stagnant water, combined with other dangers such as loose electrical wiring, is putting health at risk.
This year the wet season is expected to continue into November, according to Cambodia’s Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. Further heavy rain is expected over the next few days in Phnom Penh and the city’s authorities say that all pumping stations in the city are on alert. Let’s hope they can find somewhere to pump the water.