Floodwaters, Uncollected Trash Form Fetid Brew in Streets of Cambodia’s Capital

Floodwaters following heavy rains have risen to “an alarming level” in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, a disaster management official said Wednesday, creating a rank soup as it mixed with weeks of garbage left uncollected during a sanitation worker strike, residents said.

A tropical storm that caused flash flooding in 19 of Cambodia’s 25 provinces has led to the evacuation of more than 10,000 people to safety zones and affected at least 140,000 in total, National Committee for Disaster Management spokesperson Khun Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service. Some 1,000 rescue workers have been dispatched throughout the country to assist hardest hit areas, including Battambang, Pursat and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

Since the beginning of the month, 11 people have died in flooding, while around 88,000 hectares of plantations and 6,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed, he said, adding that about 100,000 people continue to live in inundated homes. Authorities have warned of an increased risk of infectious diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, as well as food poisoning and snake bites.

Meanwhile, floodwaters are on the rise in Phnom Penh, where a two-week strike by sanitation workers—which was resolved on Wednesday—has left the city resembling a mashup of Venice and the municipal dump.

More than 2,000 workers from Cintri, a trash collection company, had gone on strike beginning Oct. 2 because they feared losing benefits after the government offered bidding to three other companies to take over Cintri’s contract.

After city authorities agreed Wednesday to extend Cintri’s contract until the end of 2021 and provide severance packages and other benefits to workers, in line with the country’s labor law, Cintri employees ended their strike and returned to work. Touch Kosal, the head of the Cambodia Tourism Workers Union Federation, told RFA around 80 garbage trucks had been sent out to collect trash and 200 more would be deployed in coming days.

Residents, who have been overwhelming the local government with complaints about the strike over the last two weeks, spent the day wading through filthy streets in waters up to their thighs, pulling the elderly and their valuables to higher ground on rafts cobbled together with wooden slats and buckets.

“People have refused to leave even though the flooding has risen to an alarming level,” Khun Sokha said.

He said many people have chosen to stay at their homes because they don’t want to relocate to evacuation sites, although more than 500 families in a southern part of the city have been moved to safe areas.

At least two more tropical storms are expected to hit Cambodia in coming days.

Rising waters

A villager in Phnom Penh said he recently left his home because he is concerned about the safety of his children.

“I am very worried because I need a place to live,” he said, noting that evacuees have had to build makeshift shelters. “The authorities have not helped us yet.”

The resident said flooding in the capital was significantly worse than previous years.

“I’ve lived here since 2011, and we’ve not had flooding like this,” he said.

Authorities with the Ministry of Interior’s Prison Department have moved around 2,000 women detainees from Prey Sar Prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to the city’s municipal prison, spokesman Nuth Savna said. Another 1,600 at a prison in Banteay Meanchy province, on the border with Thailand, were sent to prisons in Oddor Meanchey, Kampong Thom, and Tboung Khmum provinces.

He told RFA that men detained in Prey Sar and Battambang prisons will also face flooding, and that the department is considering early releases for minor offenders to avoid overcrowding.

“I have thought about releasing and pardoning prisoners before the flooding,” he said, adding that prison officials are working hard to manage many internees.

Ny Sokha of local rights group Adhoc also called on the prison department to consider releasing minor offenders amid the flooding.

 

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