Sitting on a wooden bed above knee-high water, Bo Socheata gazed at the stagnant floodwater invading her home.
“Since before Pchum Ben, the water has made it difficult for my children to go to school,” said the 30-year-old housewife and mother of three, who lives in the capital’s Tuol Sangke commune, Russey Keo district. “And the smell from the flood is terrible.”
Eight communes in two districts north of Phnom Penh have been inundated with floodwater for the past month, with some residents forced to abandon the ground floors of their homes and schools temporarily closed.
Many resident blame the flooding on a contested development plan that filled nearby Boeung Kak lake, claiming it had acted as drainage for rain water. Authorities said the flooding was the result of heavy rains, not the multi-million dollar project.
The lingering floodwater has damaged roads, floors and entire houses.
Pat Pao, 40, spent a recent day adding small, cement levies to his floors in an effort to prevent his house being flooded. Any tasks he had to do, he moved onto his bed, “and sleep with them,” he said with a sigh.
The flooding has affected 5,000 homes across multiple communes: in Russey Keo’s Tuol Sangke, Russey Keo, Kilometer 6, Chrang Chamres I and II, and Svay Pak; and in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei and Toek Tla.
Residents blamed the filling of Boeung Kak lake, its 133 hectares under a 99-year lease for commercial and residential development by Shukaku, Inc. (At least one report in 2008 warned that filling the lake would lead to flooding.)
However, Lao Meng Khin, president of Shukaku, denied the flooding was caused by the filling.
“You look whether all the streets are flooded,” he said. “Not just Cambodia but any country in the world will flood.”
Municipal officials could not be reached for comment. But Kau Sles, a deputy governor of Russey Keo district, said rains caused the flooding, not the Boeung Kak project.
“The pumping from Boeung Kak I and II is just a small contributor,” he said. “The main reason is the rain flowing from Kampong Speu and Kandal” provinces.
Local authorities have been pumping the floodwater from the area, he said.
However, residents say the pumping only just started, despite the weeks of inundation, and they warn that without proper drainage systems, the problem is not likely to end.