Water Shortages Follow Phnom Penh’s Borey-Building Rush

A water tank in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
A water tank in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)

Residents of a borey gated housing development near the Phnom Penh airport wake up at night to see if they have running water.

Since last month, they’ve had little to no water during the day, so they use a pump at night to fill buckets to use in the morning.

Phnom Penh has long faced pressure on its water supply during the dry season, which falls roughly in the first half of the calendar year.

In 2018, water and electricity shortages struck large swaths of Phnom Penh, many residents being placed on a rotation for utilities. The problem was worse in the outskirts — and it has continued annually.

As Phnom Penh grows with housing developments pressing against the city limits, the provision of utilities has lagged behind for some. Authorities say they are laying new pipes, promising that this year would be the last for water shortages. But some residents say they’ve heard that before.

Borey Piphup Thmey 2, in the city’s northwest, has been among the worst-hit by low water pressure.

The development is a grid of imitation-city streets, lined with identical, two-story, white-walled shophouses, and along its roads of unlined concrete pavement have been placed large water tanks, blue plastic barrels capable of holding thousands of liters of water.

The largest tanks have been supplied every few blocks to be used freely by the residents, with trucks refilling them periodically. Others have been installed by residents at their homes.

“Every morning I feel sleepy,” said Samuth, 18, working at a store selling sundries, including plastic tanks. A 1,000-liter tank sells for $130, and the shop sells one or two such tanks a day, he said.

Samuth himself wakes up every night at 2 a.m. to fill water buckets for his home. It takes about 30 minutes, he said.

Saen Hour, 57, said that last year the water shortage lasted around two months from March. This year, the water stopped in January.

“This year is difficult,” Hour said. “No water comes out of the pipe.”

Every house has a pump to help the water pressure, but now it only comes out at night. Instead, they either wake up in the middle of the night to pump water from the pipes, or make daily trips to fetch water from the large tanks.

“I’m older. Some people have a bad back,” Hour said.

Two weeks ago, she had to buy bottled water to bathe, she said. “Everyone is dissatisfied, but we’ve already bought it. So what can you do?”

Residents said the units cost around $60,000 to $100,000.

Water tanks in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
Water tanks in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
Chun Thon shows his electric water pump in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
Chun Thon shows his electric water pump in Phnom Penh’s Borey Piphup Thmey 2, on February 3, 2022. (Michael Dickison/VOD)

Hour has lived in the development for around a year, and she has been told nothing official about the situation, she said. She needed running water even more than electricity, she said.

“They’ve said nothing. We just go collect the water by ourselves at night. The most important thing is we have to make sure by ourselves that we have enough water,” Hour said. “You have to be industrious.”

Chun Thon, 71, said he lived close to the market at Borey Piphup Thmey 2, so with an electric pump he is able to get running water.

The need for a pump is common across the district, including at the nearby Borey Piphup Thmey 1. Both developments are developed by oknha Hong Siv. Several smaller housing developments further fan out toward the outskirts on bumpy, dusty roads.

“There are too many borey. It’s like we’re scrapping with each other for water. If you go a little further you’ll see it’s all borey,” Thon said.

A staff member from the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority was in the process of billing a restaurant in the borey on Thursday. He simply said: “There’s not enough water.”

Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said he was aware of some shortages due to the city’s rapid expansion. Pipes were being installed but they were not yet enough for some locations, Sreng said.

“We have received information of shortages and I’ve asked district and commune authorities where there are water shortages to prepare [water] transport to sell to people at a reasonable price,” he said. He had ordered that the water should be clean, he added. “We are considering this issue thoroughly.”

Heng Sokong, a spokesman for the Industry Ministry, asked people to be conservative with water this year, and the problem would be fixed by the next dry season.

“From 2023 we will no longer have water shortages,” Sokong said. He added that the whole city would be connected to the municipal water supply in 2025.

“Our supply has increased every year, but the demand for use has exceeded the supply,” he said.

However, Sim Piseth, a resident of Borey Piphup Thmey 2, said the situation had repeated every year. It was hard to believe this year would be the last for shortages.

“It just gets stuck for about two months,” he said. “We just get water late at night. After that, they just shut it off. The water pressure is not there.”

He had seen Phnom Penh authorities saying they would upgrade pipes, but “that’s what they’ve been saying for the last few years,” Piseth said.

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