City Slums Aware of Cleanliness but Aggrieved by Poor Sanitation and Floods

Although villagers in four communities in Phnom Penh have learnt how to keep their homes and surroundings clean, they remain affected by garbage and flooding issues that make them ill and poorer, a study reveals
View of sewage canal in Meanchey district, Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Prak Chan Thul
View of sewage canal in Meanchey district, Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Prak Chan Thul

Flooding and waste management problems continue to plague the slums in Phnom Penh, causing much health and financial anguish for dwellers, even as they and local authorities try to resolve them by tackling the core of the issue.

In Prek Ta Kong 3 village in Chak Angre Leu commune in Meanchey district, poor drainage as a result of surrounding housing developments and public infrastructure projects means it floods every time it rains heavily.

There is the use of pumps to pump the rainwater or waste water out into a sewerage facility outside the community, but often poor dwellers are hampered by the lack of money to purchase petrol for the pumps.

Before the pumps existed, flood waters would reach the chin of an adult, or about 1.5 metres high, making it difficult to access the community while damaging the road and houses, a study by NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) shows.

The STT study is among three other research reports by four university students who received research grants to study the sanitary conditions of city slums based on the NGO’s “good environmental governance” theme.

The key findings of each report with recommendations focused on how communities changed their attitude towards garbage disposal, owing to the awareness of the disadvantages and effects of bad trash management.

In Prek Ta Kong 3, which is home to 25 households, those interviewed said dirty water has caused skin problems, such as scabies, trench foot and swollen feet, and has seen an increase in malaria and dengue cases.

In addition to daily living costs and the loss of important items, including land titles, family books and equipment, the community has to spend extra on home repairs as a result of the damage caused by floods and purchase of fuel for the pumps.

Schoolchildren are also forced to ride on inflatable tire rafts that are towed across water during the floods, which means additional expenditure for the service.

It is believed that many adult villagers work odd jobs with small side hustles. A lot of the income is spent on food, rent and utility bills. The rest is allocated for children’s tuition fees, bank and personal loans, and medicine.

The houses are mostly constructed with materials, such as wood, zinc, stone, and recycled materials, like plastic, rags and old metal panels.

“Regular flooding especially during the rainy season causes the pillars and walls of the houses to rot,” the study stated, noting that some houses have collapsed because of the pillars’ long exposure to water.

The fragility is worrying, especially during rainfall or when it is windy, and if it collapses, the family has to rent another house in the village as they are not financially-able to repair it.

“This becomes another financial burden for them.”

The study stated that local authorities are aware of the flooding problem and have made efforts to solve them, including fuel provision, but efforts were “still limited”.

To solve this problem, each family raises 10,000 riel per week to buy fuel for the pumps. While no compensation was sought from authorities as they “feel it is their own responsibility”, they hope there will be more assistance, also from NGOs.

Stinky waters

About five kilometres away, some 256 people in Boeung Chhouk Meanchey Thmey II in Chhbar Ampov live in daily torment of heavy stenches wafting from a lake-full of rubbish below their floating homes.

The study stated that the rubbish in the water can “never be cleaned up completely” as the community is surrounded by “many old and new buildings and houses”.

Apart from the stench, which causes hardship and respiratory illness to the people, as well as the risk of dengue, the rubbish has become a habitat for snakes, centipedes and mosquitoes.

Established in 1996, the village was previously called Boeung Snor before being renamed Boeung Chhouk canal.

A villager, known only as “Mrs Mao”, said, “The garbage source is unknown. Some comes from the community, while some comes with the flow of water. It is impossible to clean up, just as if the trash came out of the ground.”

In 2020, three meetings were held between the local authority and community to educate them about keeping their homes and surroundings clean, as well as waste management in the community.

Together with authorities and STT, work was done to clean up the area, including the use of 10 to 14 trucks to clear the trash piles.

The study stated that although rubbish was disposed of properly for the garbage truck to collect, the trash under their houses continued to exist because the community was effectively on a lake.

“Every time there is rainfall, unknown sources of trash would flow into the lake under their houses. The problem that the community was facing would still continue as long as the community does not identify the real source of the trash and find solutions to resolve it,” the study concluded.