Urban land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut released a report on Friday highlighting the state of lakes in Phnom Penh, saying not a single water body was intact, with 60 percent of lakes completely filled in for development projects.
The NGO, which highlights urban land rights violations, released a report, titled “The Last Lakes,” accounting for all major water bodies around the capital, excluding the rivers. The report shows that 40 percent of Phnom Penh’s wetlands have been filled in, causing serious concerns over flooding.
“Should the situation continue as expected, the city and surrounding areas may suffer the consequences of severe flooding, loss of fish species, loss of natural wastewater treatment processes, and loss of local livelihoods,” the report reads.
Of the remaining lakes and wetlands, the report pushes for the government to maintain these water bodies, such as Boeung Tamok, Boeung Tumpoun and the Choeung Ek wetlands.
The Cambodian capital routinely faces flooding during the monsoon season, and evictions linked to filling of lakes has led to thousands of families being affected.
The report also points to the controversial filling in of the Boeung Kak lake, which caused more than a decade of protests from residents who were forcefully evicted from around the lake, with many receiving little or no compensation.
Soeung Saran, executive director of STT, said there needed to be a lot more transparency when the government was planning to fill in a lake, such as making environment assessment reports public, especially to residents affected by these projects.
He added that the lakes should be part of Phnom Penh’s urban planning efforts, by taking inspiration from neighboring countries.
“There are a lot of environmental impacts of filling the lake. If we look at Vietnam, Thailand, neighboring countries, they keep lakes in the city since it contributes to the natural ecology and makes the city cooler,” said Soeung Saran.
Shelby Doyle, the author of “Phnom Penh: City of Water,” published in December 2012, said that the lack of a master plan for the city and the filling in of lake were the main reasons for flooding in Phnom Penh.
“The result is rapid uncontrolled development characterized by a lack of building code, no zoning enforcement, and few development laws and regulations,” she said.
However, City Hall spokesperson Meth Meas Pheakdey denied any concerns over the filling of Phnom Penh’s lakes, and said that development was needed to grow the city.
He also rejected any issues with flooding, saying that it occurred only during heavy rainfall and was getting better every year.
“In the past, some areas in Phnom Penh could be flooded by rain that lasted for two to three days, but now it is better,” he said. “The floods remain only from half to an hour.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has blamed the city’s flooding on “heavy rain” and told critics not to blame the government for poor drainage because flooding happened in many cities around the world.