During the rainy season, Phnom Penh might be mistaken for the lost city of Atlantis - Wet. Struck by heavy showers, improvements made to Cambodia's capital city during the dry season are often washed away.
The build-up of these rains accumulates in lowland areas, polluting the environment and its inhabitants with stagnant wastewater. Limited sources of clean water both in Phnom Penh and throughout the country make residents hard put to achieve long-lasting social and economic developments, as people must fight to eat, drink and bathe in good health.
Cambodia's need for clean water is so great that the government made an appeal to Japan for help. Technical cooperation, they call it, and a master plan. The Japanese government heard Cambodia's cry for help and contributed the human and financial resources needed to strengthen the flood protection and urban drainage systems of Phnom Penh and its surrounding suburbs.
Phnom Penh is home to more than 1,200,000 residents, making it Cambodia's political, economic and cultural hub. Before leaving office, former governor Chea Sophara was in the process of transforming Phnom Penh into a city worthy of international adoration. Aesthetic and structural improvement projects were embarked upon to make the capital a more pleasant place to live and to visit. But these projects were often retarded by the rainy season, with few seen to completion. A concerted effort to protect Phnom Penh from flooding rains began in the 1960s, when a new outer ring of dikes was constructed on the outskirts of the city. Urban drainage facilities also helped to channel storm water and domestic wastewater away from residential homes. But an aging infrastructure and poor upkeep challenged the project, as little care was given to many already existing dikes built in the early 1900s.
Tumpun, an aged water pumping station, has the capacity to process just 3 m³ of water per second, an insufficient rate to meet the needs of a growing population. A new pumping station being built with Japanese funds will he able to process 15 m³ of water per second, according to Yukio Nakamura, project manager of the Kubota Construction Company, Ltd, which is heading Phnom Penh's flood protection and drainage improvement project. This is one of many projects funded by the Japanese government.
"We have more projects that are still being implemented, and some have been already finished," said Chikahiro Masuda, Assistant Resident Representative to the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
In JICA outline, it was noted that the Grand Aid Policy of Japan contributes to the expansion of the Phum Prek Water Treatment Plant, to be finished in October 2003; the rehabilitation of Kompong Cham section's of National Highway Route No. 7, to be completed in May 2003; the expansion of the Electricity Supply Facilities in Siem Reap, expected to be finished by March 2004; the Community Water Supply in Peri-Urban Areas of Phnom Penh; the improvement of the Water Supply System in Siem Reap; and the Community Empowerment program.
Grand Aid not only helps Cambodia but other developing countries as well. Funds distributed throughout the world are given with no strings attached. Recipients are under no obligation to pay back the grants.
The Flood Protection and Drainage Improvement project being executed in Phnom Penh is critical to the well being of city dwellers whose homes, villas, shops and restaurants face the threat of destruction by heavy, dirty floodwater each year. The project aims to protect Phnom Penh from a flooding Mekong River system and to minimize flood damage when a deluge is unavoidable. It also aims to minimize the damaging effects of heavy rainfall. The project’s goals are lofty, and achieving them may be easier said than done, said one consultant to the venture. Tsuyoshi Matsushita, resident representative of CTI Engineering International Company. He also expressed concern about the development plan. He said he does not have full confidence that this project would be able to protect Phnom Penh against whatever flood which may occur in the future since the project scale is designed based on 5 year probability of flood scale. But notwithstanding, Matsushita admitted this project would contribute to reduce the level of floodwater flowing away from Phnom Penh. It currently takes approximately 48 hours for floodwater to drain out of town. When the project is completed, this drainage time will be reduced to only 12 to 24 hours, Matsushita said. Having been initiated on December 12, 2002, the plan should be finished by March 15, 2004.
The project is wide scope and will tackle several problem areas. The Svay Pak drainage sluiceway is slated for improvement, as is the Tompun Ring dike. The Meanchey drainage channel must be fortified, and the Tompun Inlet channel is due assistance. The Salang downstream drainage channel must also be addressed. The construction of the Tumpun pumping station must be finished. And drainage sluiceways at Tum Nup Toek and Salang must be constructed. About 2,056,000,000 Yen ($16 million) has been reserved for the development plan, which consultants hope to complete by 2004.
Matsushita and Masuda both noted that the plan could protect Phnom Penh for the next 30 years if properly maintained. But they warn that a responsible public is critical to the project's success. Careless residents who act with an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality and throw their garbage into the culvert will reduce the project's efficacy by 10 or 20 years and it may cause flood in the area once again, they said.