Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

At a Sihanoukville Beach, Stinky Wastewater Flows Into the Sea

The drainage system at Sihanoukville’s O’Chheau Teal Beach sends wastewater into the ocean, in November 2022. CamboJA/Sorn Sarath
The drainage system at Sihanoukville’s O’Chheau Teal Beach sends wastewater into the ocean, in November 2022. CamboJA/Sorn Sarath

Foul-smelling wastewater is draining into the sea at Sihanoukville’s O’Chheu Teal beach, leaving visitors plugging their noses and a local business owner and tourism official concerned that the stink will scare off tourists.

People began smelling a strong stench from wastewater flowing into the sea after a new sewer drainage system was built earlier this year, said Mean, a beach restaurant owner who only gave her given name due to fears of reprisal.

“The patrons always asked, ‘where does the smell come from?’ when they arrived, and I told them that it was from a sewer nearby and they saw, so they know,” she said. “My mother used to tell the relevant authorities who came to see this sewer but they just made a report to the upper level and there’s no solution so far.”

The sewer was built in March this year and the foul smell got worse in June, Mean said.

A CamboJA reporter visited the site in October 2021 and saw what appeared to be raw sewage flowing from nearby public toilets directly into the sea. Last week, CamboJA reporters observed the new drainage system built near the restrooms — and smelled the foul odor of the wastewater draining into the sea.

Preah Sihanouk provincial tourism department director Taing Socheat Kroesna acknowledged the issue, saying the odor would hurt beach tourism if it went unresolved. 

“I have received complaints from vendors about the stench coming from the sewer, and I also reported to the upper level and hope the issue will be resolved soon,” he said, adding that as a tourism official he could only coordinate efforts. 

“I am working with technical teams to expedite this work as soon as possible to ensure that it does not impact the environment, the coast and tourist attractions,” he said. 

People visit Sihanoukville’s O’Chheau Teal Beach in November 2022. CamboJA/Sorn Sarath.

In the last five years, the coastal city of Sihanoukville was transformed into a bustling casino town as skyscrapers sprang up following the influx of Chinese residents and investment. But after the government outlawed online gambling in late 2019 and the pandemic hit, tens of thousands of Chinese citizens who had moved to Cambodia to work in the gambling and hospitality sector left Sihanoukville, leaving the economy in limbo and hundreds of high-rises unfinished across the city.

Critics have said the once-booming real estate and casino industries and rapid population growth in Sihanoukville had outpaced infrastructure development in the city, leading to traffic and flooding issues.

But during the pandemic’s tourist lull in recent years, Sihanoukville has seen new infrastructure construction, including roads and sewage treatment facilities. Along the beach, the government has installed public toilets and new shops have replaced old ones.

Long Dimanche, deputy provincial governor, denied sewage was being pumped directly into the sea and said officials were working to address the drainage issue.

“When the sewage system is clogged, it seeps into rainwater drains and flows into the sea,” he said. “We are now working to connect the sewage system into the water treatment, but we still have some technical problems.”

Dimanche said authorities were working to separate the drainage system into two parts, one for rainwater drainage, and one for sewage to be discharged into the water treatment plant.

Two sewage treatment facilities were operating in Sihanoukville’s Bei commune with a total treatment capacity of 12,400 cubic meters of sewage per day, the official said.

He said a third facility, which will have the capacity to treat an additional 20,000 cubic meters of sewage per day, is under construction to service Buon commune.

Once all three wastewater treatment systems are operational, most of Sihanoukville’s wastewater could be filtered, Dimanche said, adding that he didn’t know the timeline for completion of the new facility.

The drainage system at Sihanoukville’s O’Chheau Teal Beach sends wastewater into the ocean, in November 2022. CamboJA/Sorn Sarath

San Mala, a senior advocacy officer at the Cambodian Youth Network, said while much of Sihanoukville is under construction, more dirty water and waste is produced, causing pollution despite official pledges to protect the environment.

Authorities previously promised to stop pouring sewage into the sea,” Mala said. “On the other hand, authorities also built wastewater treatment plants and should make sure that sewage must discharge into the sewage treatment plant before releasing into the sea, but so far, there are still cases of sewage being dumped into the sea, which is a failure of the authorities.”