Flood risk as Phnom Penh's wetlands cleared for buildings

BANGKOK • More than one million people in Phnom Penh face the risk of increased flooding and loss of livelihoods as wetlands in the Cambodian capital are destroyed to build apartments and industries, human rights groups warned yesterday.

Developments - including the ING City township - will reduce the Tompoun wetlands to less than a tenth of its 1,500ha and lead to the eviction of more than 1,000 families who live on its edge, activists said in a report.

It would also impoverish thousands of families who farm and fish in the wetlands in the city of 1.5 million people.

"The wetlands sustain local communities and play a vital role in Phnom Penh's waste management and flood prevention," said the report from Equitable Cambodia, non-profit human rights group Licadho, the Cambodian Youth Network and land rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT).

"Millions of Cambodians will likely be affected by the potentially devastating impacts of destroying the wetlands."

Phnom Penh, situated on the banks of the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, is highly vulnerable to floods, particularly in the rainy season from June to October.

Lakes and wetlands, such as floodplains, mangroves and marshes, regulate water flow, minimise flooding, purify water and replenish groundwater, said senior research fellow Diane Archer at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Bangkok.

"City authorities should recognise wetlands as an important resource to be protected and integrated into the urban environment," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Yet in many cities, expansion takes place without the necessary enforcement of urban planning or in-depth environmental impact assessments."

Although Cambodia has endorsed the international convention on wetlands protection, about half its wetlands have disappeared over the past 15 years, according to conservation group Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

In Phnom Penh, 15 of 25 lakes have been infilled, with about a third of the Tompoun wetland infilled so far, STT said.

Equitable Cambodia's executive director Eang Vuthy said dredging the more than 100 million tonnes of sand needed for infilling poses added risks to communities and the environment. "Given that millions will be affected, in-depth studies and public consultations are needed," he added.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the reclamation was necessary for the city's development, and that an environment impact assessment had been done.

"A canal is being built to divert excess water, and there is a wastewater treatment plant. Some relocations are necessary, but they have been given ample time to move."


Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2020, with the headline Flood risk as Phnom Penh's wetlands cleared for buildings. Subscribe