Kampong Speu Province-Oral district: A factory belches reams of dust into the air, covering trees, pagodas, homes and the nearby school — in which students’ desks are also coated with the grime.
So bad is the pollution from CPP senator Ly Yong Phat’s sugarcane plantation and factory in Oral district’s Phlorch village that teachers, parents and activists say children are suffering health issues from breathing in the dust.
“We worry about the health of children, their eyes and lungs,” one local mother, Ngok Thy, told CamboJA, saying her two sons’ eyes are often red. Several other parents told reporters similar stories about their families getting sick from the dust.
The school has tried to find solutions by blocking classrooms’ ventilation outlets with plastic bottles and foam to try prevent the sugarcane dust from entering. Teachers also tell the students to wear face masks, but are at a loss over what to do about their eyes.
“We have to stay inside the classroom when the wind blows and we cannot even eat meals outside,” said one teacher, who did not want to be named.
“We cannot teach the students because the dust gets into their eyes, so when the wind is particularly strong we ask students not to come at all.”
The dust is a problem between January and April every year when the company starts crushing the harvested cane. Locals say it’s been this way since the factory opened in 2012, after more than 1,500 families were evicted to make way for a Phnom Penh Sugar Company mega-plantation. They were each given compensation of about $500.
Locals say they’ve repeatedly asked authorities to intervene, but that because the 9,000-hectare concession, which got initial investment of $150million, is connected to powerful people, no action has been taken.
Asked for comment Seng Nhak, who is the LYP Group’s CEO, told reporters: “Before you write the news, please go and see the site and investigate yourself first.”
CamboJA reporters did so, and found the situation as described above — a blanket of dust over the area.
Pat Srey Nich, 22, lives in a house about 1km away from the factory and said her family members often get colds and sore throats, while Kin Kream, 40, said her son is at Chrakcha Primary School, and his eyes were swollen for two days from the dust this month.
Oum Harm, 83, chief monk at a pagoda which is about 600 meters from the factory, said he has asked the company many times to reduce the dust, but with no success.
“When the sugarcane dust gets into the eyes, it causes you to tear up,” he said.
Ham Prich, 40, father to a 12-year-old student, said he was at a loss for what to do.
“We can do nothing. Teachers have called for intervention from authorities many times but there’s still no solution,” he said. “We, the people, dare not because they are powerful.”
Trapaing Chor Commune Chief, Tep Nem, said that teachers had raised the issue with commune authorities a year ago, but they’d never sent an official request for intervention.
“Since then, commune authorities have not brought the issue to the upper level,” he said. “Almost no-one is interested in this issue as it mostly affects the school and a few families nearby the factory.”
However, Nem encouraged people to submit a letter to the commune, so that they could refer this issue to a higher level.
“We would take the matter to the company to solve,” he said.
But Prum Kimthon, president of Oral district education office, said that the problem had been raised multiple times at a higher level, to no avail.
“We reported the issue both in the meeting and in a written letter [ to district and provincial authorities], but we did not receive any answer from them,” he said. “The only good solution is to move the school away from the site, and the company can help relocate the school.”
Kampong Speu coordinator for rights group Adhoc , Roth Thavy, said that aside from the dust people are also affected by a bad smell emanating from the factory’s waste.
“I think the company should set up a technical system to properly dispose of the waste to avoid impacting the people living nearby,” he said.