Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Dangkor residents urge government to address worsening floods

People carry their belongings out of their flooded home in Dangkor district’s Kongnoy commune in Phnom Penh, Picture taken October 26, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
People carry their belongings out of their flooded home in Dangkor district’s Kongnoy commune in Phnom Penh, Picture taken October 26, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

As they repair their homes after about a week of inundation late last month, residents of Phnom Penh’s southern Dangkor district are urging the government to address the area’s increasingly severe flooding.

In October, the annual flood cycle of the Prek Tnaot river impacted 10 communes of Dangkor district, according to the city’s Public Works Department. The department listed five of those communes — Kongnoy, Tien, Spean Thmar, Prek Kampoes and Roluos — as high-risk areas due to deep flooding.

Dangkor governor Kim Nheb told CamboJA that 1,530 families were affected by the flooding, with 350 families requiring evacuation from their homes. By now, the floodwaters have receded, and people have returned to their houses to try and pick up the pieces.

The Prek Tnaot starts in Kampong Speu province and flows along the southern edge of Dangkor district. Though it floods most years during the rainy season, residents say the inundation is getting worse, often pointing to factors such as local filling of lakes, canals and other water retention features as a primary cause. Some studies of the area also list climate change, which leads to more severe storms, and deforestation in Kampong Speu as other contributing issues.

Regardless of the causes, Dangkor residents say they want to see more government action to save their homes from future destruction.

Kun Sophea, 30, lives along the side of Dangkor district’s Prek Chrey river and says the flooding this year was worse than any she’d seen in the area.

“I personally think that local authorities should use any practical solutions to control Prek Tnaot’s water more efficiently and effectively to avoid worse flooding,” Sophea said. “As we have seen this year, we encountered huge flooding that we have never experienced before.”

Besides the threat of property damage, she said the floods affect her family in several other ways.

“First off, it has affected our daily income as my husband, who is the main breadwinner, was forced to suspend his work for several days. And another crucial challenge is probably related to our own safety, especially for my two children who are now aged under five.”

People survey a street broken by flooding in Dangkor district’s Sak Sampov commune in Phnom Penh. Picture taken October 31, 2021. CamboJA/ Photo supply

Fellow Dangkor resident Sum Bunthoeun, 23, lives in the Tien commune, one of those that was listed as being at higher risk. He said the flooding has caused a lot of problems for people living in his area, as it disrupted them from doing business and damaged property, including agricultural land. Bunthoeun said his own village was not as badly affected by flooding this year as in previous seasons, but that other neighboring villages were completely underwater.

“It is a bit lucky for us since we are not so affected like other villages in this commune. But last year, we were in the same situation as they have just experienced,” he said. “My house was flooded underwater. All the fishes in the pond flowed out, and other animals died after the flooding.”

As a resident, Bunthoeun urged officials to address the regular flooding that hits the district, perhaps building a higher dam upriver. If nothing is done, he said, people will continue losing property and struggling to cope with the damages.

Local officials from the high-risk areas say the government has plans to build flood-control infrastructure, but that implementation has yet to become a reality.

Kongnoy commune chief Un Sok Rom said the government intends to restore the Prek Tnaot and build a higher dam to address flooding.

However, he said, “for now, we have seen nothing.”

“I hope the government can complete the job soon. If not, the flooding will still happen, and it possibly could cause a lot of problems as we saw this year,” Sok Rom said.

Sok Rom told CamboJA that Kongnoy commune was severely affected by flooding this year when compared to the past. Almost 500 families were hit by flooding, he added, with more than 100 families requiring evacuation to higher ground.

Tien commune fared better this year, according to commune chief Sum Rin, but the flooding still seemed more aggressive than usual.

However, Sum Rin said local authorities had prepared well using experience from previous years, and that only four of six villages of the commune’s villages were flooded.

“The flooding is worse than it was last year. But the local authorities have prepared well before it takes place, so that some areas of this commune were not flooded,” Sum Rin said.

About 346 families living in four different villages were affected, he said, but did not require evacuations.

Still, even though local work helped prevent worse outcomes, Sum Rin is concerned severe flooding will be the norm if the Prek Tnaot dam is not built higher than it is now. He told CamboJA he had faith the government would address the issue.

Cambodian soldiers pack sand and soil onto a street to prevent flooding at the Kongnoy commune in Dangkor district, Phnom Penh, Picture taken October 26, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Not everyone feels the same.

Yang Saing Koma, chief of Committee at Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), told CamboJA that despite the flood risk, the government, and specifically the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, does not have specific mitigation measures. If things continue like this he said, the flooding will only continue to get worse.

“To avoid Prek Tnaot flooding, the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology should build dams and reservoirs at the upper side of the river, restore the river and its tributaries, replant the trees, stop filling the lakes at the downside of the river and extend the waterway to the Bassac river,” said Koma.

When reached for comment, Water Resources Ministry spokesman  Chan Youttha countered that the office does indeed have plans to address the Prek Tnaot flooding.

“The first thing we need to do is to restore the Prek Tnaot river and, as of now, we have enough budget to do so. The company who takes charge for restoring the river, as well as the Ministry, have been there to check where we should start our work and where we should start next when the water recedes,” Youttha said. “We will start our work soon.”

However, it is unclear what might become of the other likely causes of increasingly severe flooding, namely deforestation and the filling of natural wetlands. That latter issue has become a hot-button political issue in Phnom Penh, where construction and development remains a key industry.