A flood-protection project is 70% complete around the site of major Phnom Penh flooding for the past two years, as residents around the Prek Tnaut river remain watchful over the season’s severe rains while water levels creep up.
The Water Resources Ministry says it is hopeful that the work done so far — restoring stretches of Prek Tnaut and tributaries, and preparing sluice gates to release pressure — can prevent a repeat of 2020 and 2021, when hundreds of families were evacuated from around the river in the capital’s Dangkao district.
Eang Chanthorn, 64, lives in Kongnoy commune, around 100 meters from the Prek Tnaut river. Here, he said on Monday, flooding was “inevitable.”
Chanthorn said floods often happen between the end of September and through October almost every year. And in these last few years, he said, flooding had hit the area even more aggressively.
“My house was submerged in almost a meter and a half of water for one week as there was heavy rain pouring on consecutive days last year,” he said. “But luckily, we had enough food as well as basic needs to live properly. We knew that it was coming so we had prepared before it happened.”
Before, when he had livestock, he had to leave the house and camp out on a dry road on higher ground with the animals. But even now, living through flooding wasn’t easy, Chanthorn said.
“When there was flooding, our bathroom was completely covered by water. So we needed to walk through the water and go to the neighbor’s bathroom if we needed to use one.”
As of this week, Chanthorn had seen Prek Tnaut’s water level rise around half a meter from normal — not yet enough to be of concern. But he was still wary, despite the infrastructure work by authorities, he said.
“I think our area can still suffer from flooding if the rain pours heavily like it did last year, even if the river is partially restored now,” he said. “We are paying close attention to the news. If there is heavy rain in Kampong Speu, Prek Tnaut will surely cause flooding. We are always prepared.”
The Prek Tnaut river originates in the mountains of Kampong Speu province near the border of Koh Kong. A 2019 report by the U.N. Development Program found an increasing risk of seasonal floods due to deforestation and residential developments.
Speaking at a press conference last month, Mao Hak, deputy director of the Water Resources Ministry’s Tonle Sap Authority, said a Chinese-funded Prek Tnaut irrigation and flood protection project in Phnom Penh, Kandal, Takeo and Kampong Speu was almost 70% complete.
‘’Our priority now is to prevent Prek Tnaut in Phnom Penh city and some parts of Kandal from having severe flooding in the coming month,” Hak said at the time. “We hope it will be OK.”
Hak told VOD this week that the project includes restoring 26 km of Prek Tnaut river as well as tributaries.
“The project is supposed to finish next year and have the capacity to release 1,350 cubic meters of water per second through the sluice gate when it is fully built, which is equal to the amount of floodwaters seen last year,” he said.
The ministry was paying close attention to the weather and monitoring the situation at Prek Tnaut, Hak said.
“With what we have built now, I think we can prevent the floods better,” he said.
Kongnoy commune chief Un Sok Rom said 473 families in his area — 2,160 people from the four villages of the commune — had been affected by last year’s floods. Some 11 families were evacuated from their homes.
Residents had been spared so far this year, but it was too soon to say that there wouldn’t be any problems, he said.
“We cannot guarantee it 100%, as the water of the Prek Tnaut river has been rising these last few days in Kongnoy village. We’ll keep observing it,” he said.