Residents Say They Face Unprecedented Flooding After Phnom Penh Canal Filled

3 min read
A young resident paddles home in a Chroy Changva neighborhood that has reportedly been flooded for two months. Locals say officials earlier this year had mostly filled a local canal. Photo taken October 10, 2021.
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Floodwaters are rising on a small group of Chroy Changva residents who say they have suffered two months of unprecedented flooding after officials filled a nearby canal earlier this year.

Pech Channa, 50, from one of the worst-affected families in Phnom Penh’s Bak Kheng commune, said homes began to flood in August, a month after officials filled the local waterway. It was the worst flooding she had seen in her 20 years there, Channa said.

“We’ve lived here for such a long time and we have never had a problem or flooded like this,” she said. “Because when it rains, the water flows into the canal. And if you fill it up, where will it flow? It will be stuck here.”

Her family removed their belongings from the house on October 6 because the rain had flooded her home as deep as her neck, she said.

“[For the Pchum Ben holiday], we did not go to the pagoda with others, as we were busy transporting property,” Channa said. “Otherwise, it would have been floating. I had bought cakes and planned to bring them to the pagoda, but I could not go since the house was flooded. So our ancestors did not get anything this year.”

Another local resident, 60-year-old Hay Kim Hoeun, said water had already flooded the area around her home and was about to seep into her house. She believed her home would be flooded in three days’ time and said it would be difficult for her to move her property to higher ground since she recently had surgery for cancer.

“If it all sinks under, the [situation] at home will be very difficult,” she said. “There is no place left to go.”

Her son, 46-year-old Yeung Kim Yen, said he had sought the intervention of relevant officials to solve the flood problem, but had received no response.

“I contacted them a few dozen times and they said to wait for them to tell their superiors and then kept quiet,” he said. “If some people say they are in a meeting, that meeting is too much. Yesterday I called, today I called, but no one came to see.”

The canal running through Bak Kheng commune was mostly filled by Chroy Changva district authorities on July 22, residents said. The filling was later suspended for two months. The flooding, near Bridge 7 on National Road 6, is affecting around 10 households, they said.

The residents say they have been waiting unsuccessfully for a solution from authorities for weeks. In the meantime, the villagers have lost crops and livestock, despite buying more than 100 liters of oil to pump out water, they said. The rain has continued to fall, rendering their efforts ineffective.

Bak Kheng commune chief Kong Bunly said the flooding was beyond the commune’s capacity to handle, so he asked district officials for help.

“Because the location has a large amount of water beyond my capacity in the commune, I immediately reported to the district governor so that he can lead the machines to excavate the area,” Bunly said.

He added that, because the local canal had no longer been functional in serving the people, the commune filled it in for construction of a health center.

Chroy Changva district governor Klaing Huot could not be reached for comment.

Yong Kim Eng, the director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said the government should stop removing lakes and canals in Phnom Penh to maintain the natural drainage capacity of these features.

“The filling up of lakes and canals should not be continued because the lakes and canals in Phnom Penh are almost gone. … We can no longer see the lakes,” Kim Eng said. “There are still some on the outskirts of the capital, but they are doing a lot of filling up, which worries us that such filling up will cause flooding and damage their crops and livelihoods.”

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