The rains have arrived in Sihanoukville and as predicted by most, but ignored by those who could have averted it, they have brought mass flooding to the area on scales never seen in the past. This is because flood plains and other natural drainage areas have been carelessly filled in to be built upon, before alternative watercourses have been made.
After a few days of heavy rain, vast areas of the city were thigh deep in water, including the main center of the largest NGO, M’lop Tapang. This is dangerous and costly in itself. but combined with the fact this water is contaminated by the rubbish and sewage now covering the streets and canals of the city, it is downright scary! People will become sick.
While we are lucky our center is built on stilts and on a hillside, our playground still gets its fair share of water, as do many of our families houses, as previous watercourses down the hills have been blocked. We are working closely with families to help them best protect their homes.
The rains will pass but the underlying issues facing the city will remain. It is impossible to deny the fact that the city is being sold off and built over at rates that are unsupportable for the infrastructure in place. Waste management, electricity supply, road and traffic conditions and (somewhat ironically) water supply are woefully inadequate for the needs of the growing city. Combine this with the fact that families are being pushed from their homes as land is sold off, or because rents are sky rocketing, that food and amenity prices are increasing and jobs in the poorest sector (small shops, beach sellers, moto dops) are disappearing, makes for a pretty bleak picture for many Cambodian families living here.
Sadly, as is so often the case, it is the poorest of people who will feel these effects the worse. Many families are faced with a difficult choice; either move out of the city back to home provinces, but moves can be costly and opportunities in the countryside are fewer, both in terms of employment and education, or, stay in the city with circumstances becoming more difficult on an almost daily basis.
There is however a glimmer of hope in Sihanoukville’s new governor, Kuoch Chamroeun. Tasked with the cleaning up of the city, he has so far closed building sites operating without permits, started the task of widening canals for drainage, and fined the company in charge of rubbish collection for their failures. We must now wait and see whether these changes can make any real difference or whether it is already a case of too little too late.