PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — This city of nearly two million people has many of the amenities of a modern metropolis — broadband Internet, automated teller machines and fancy restaurants, to name a few. But until this month, the capital of Cambodia had no public transportation system. To get around, residents had to inure themselves to perilous rides on motorcycle taxis or dust-smothered commutes in open three-wheeled tuk-tuks.
Now, in an experiment underwritten by the Japanese government, Phnom Penh is giving the relatively alien concept of public city buses a try. Ten buses are making their way up and down Monivong Boulevard, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, for a month to see if they catch on with Cambodians.
Egami Masahiko, representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, said that with Cambodia’s economy growing steadily and the streets of Phnom Penh choked with traffic, the timing was right. Mass transit, he said, is “fundamental infrastructure for a modern city.”
Since the buses began running Feb. 5, curious residents have been climbing aboard just for a test ride.
“We don’t know where we are going,” said one rider, a 13-year-old high school student, staring out the window one recent morning. It was her first time on a bus, she said, adding, “It’s kind of a new experience.”
Cambodia has plenty of private buses that ferry people across the countryside and connect provincial cities with the capital. But developing mass transit within Phnom Penh has until now ranked low on the priority list in a country where one-third of the population does not have running water.
The genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge, which ended in 1979, damaged the country’s social fabric so badly that Cambodians came to assume that in many facets of life, including transportation, they were mostly on their own.
Some riders on the new Japanese-sponsored buses in the capital said that the lack of a public transportation system was emblematic of a country where government assistance was rare and civic-mindedness in short supply.
“People here don’t have a long vision,” said Khem Vannary, an actress on Cambodian television and an enthusiastic adopter of the bus experiment. “They don’t understand how a bus can improve their lives.”
Ms. Vannary lamented the unruliness she said she saw in the streets, where traffic laws are rarely enforced. She described Phnom Penh’s traffic as a free-for-all, comparing it to “children refusing to obey their parents,” and wondered whether the bus service would prove effective. An earlier experiment, sponsored by Japan in 2001, ended after several weeks.
The new experiment, relying on rented buses and temporary staff, appears to have rapidly won admirers. The buses are often packed at rush hour, and a supervisor of the line says that about 3,000 people are using them daily.
Ticket collectors wear shirts that say, “Take the bus for a better future of Phnom Penh.” And yet the immediate future of public transportation remains cloudy. The government has yet to set many of the specifics, including the starting date, for a permanent service that will follow if the one-month experiment is deemed a success.
Mr. Egami, the Japanese agency’s representative, emphasizes the importance of low fares to lure customers. He said he doubted that a public transportation system could be run at a profit, at least in the early stages. “It will require a subsidy,” he said.
That appeared to be at odds with the city government’s intentions. Long Dimanche, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh municipality, said that it had chosen a private company to run the buses and that “there will be no subsidy.” The contractor “has expertise,” Mr. Dimanche said, but he declined to identify the company.
“If everything works out,” he said, a permanent service will begin this year.
If it does, many city residents may need a quick primer on the ins and outs of bus riding.
Khay Sovanvisal, a supervisor on the experiment, said he was constantly fielding questions from curious people who wandered past his white canvas tent at one terminus of the route. He hands out about 500 brochures a day, listing the fare — 1,500 riels (less than 40 cents) — and declaring that it “is not too expensive.”
A woman hurried up to Mr. Sovanvisal, apologized for interrupting and asked what time her relative, who had boarded the bus on the other side of the city, would arrive at this end of the line.
“I can’t tell you that,” Mr. Sovanvisal said patiently. “The bus comes every 10 minutes. It depends which one she’s on.”
Striking workers go back to work as government official says opposition’s actions made police to crack down on protest.
|Cambodia’s government has defended its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and striking garment workers as the ruling party marks what they call the victory day over the Khmer Rouge regime.
“The Cambodian People’s Party will do whatever to defend the constitution and the royal government of Cambodia that was formed through an election,” Heng Samrin, Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly, said during a ceremony on Tuesday.
The government was marking what it sees as the 35th anniversary of the victory day against the communist Khmer Rouge regime on Tuesday. The Khmer Rouge killed about one in five Cambodians after seizing power in 1975 up until 7 January 1979.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made his first public appearance at the event since a violent crackdown, but did not comment about the operation that left four dead and many more injured.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Phnom Penh, said on Tuesday that a high ranking government official addressed the crackdown during the ceremony, saying the opposition was “disrespecting the country’s laws” that prompted the response from the security forces.
Heidler reported that the government promised to continue seeking dialogue with the opposition.
Back to work
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of garment workers returned to work in Cambodia, ending a two-week pay dispute.
A union and the country’s garment factory association estimated that between 65 and 70 percent of workers had returned to factories as of Tuesday.
Cambodia has faced continuing trouble since an election in July last year that the opposition say was rigged.
“Now we are working on the diplomatic front, on the commercial front, on the legal front. We are in touch with unions and worker’s organisations all over the world to condemn violence on workers and to help workers to achieve that goal that demands $160 a month as the minimum wage,” said Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
The protests are the biggest challenge in many years to the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has led the country for almost three decades.
Protests over the election have been generally peaceful, but a strike by workers in Cambodia’s key garment sector has put extra pressure on Hun Sen’s regime.
In the midst of rapid urban population growth, Phnom Penh City Hall has applied to create as many as five new districts in the capital, a spokesman said yesterday.
“We plan to split some districts,” City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche told the Post, adding that the geographical boundaries of the city itself weren’t expanding. “We will do it before the May 2014 [council] elections.”
The plan, designed to improve governance and service delivery, had already been submitted in proposal form to government ministries, Dimanche said.
“We want people close to the public services that the authorities provide. If districts are large, they can’t serve the needs of the people. So we have to separate districts to better meet their needs,” he said.
“I do not know whether there will be three or five, but I have heard it is three.”
Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the government was reviewing City Hall’s submission, which would affect Meanchey, Russey Keo, Sen Sok, Por Sen Chey and Chamkarmon districts.
“We’re studying the possibility of creating three or four districts,” he said.
When asked whether the creation of new districts could result in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party strengthening its position before May’s election for district and provincial-city council members, Setha said it was possible but unlikely.
In a population survey released by the Ministry of Planning in August – halfway between the 2008 and 2018 censuses – it was revealed that 21.4 per cent of Cambodia’s population lives in cities.
That was an increase on the 19.4 per cent recorded in the 2008 census, when Cambodia’s overall population was some 10 per cent smaller.
In July, the Post reported that the allocation of National Assembly seats has not changed since before 1998, despite ballooning urbanisation. NGOs said this effectively lowered the worth of a vote in opposition strongholds such as Phnom Penh.
In 1998, the percentage of people living in urban areas was 15.7. The consensus conducted before that – way back in 1962 – found 10.3 per cent of the population living in cities.
Kem Ley, a social researcher and political analyst, said creating new districts was “not the right direction” for the government to take.
Instead, the government needed to be directly addressing issues that urban population growth gave rise to, such as traffic congestion, overcrowding and an unequal spread of infrastructure.
“If we learn from other countries … we should not just create new districts for people to occupy high positions,” he said.
Ley said the government should consider subsidising factories or institutions such as universities to relocate to the outskirts of Phnom Penh or, in some cases, provincial areas.
“This is in order to release the people and stop the traffic jams,” he said. “In [the future], there will be many more cars, people – if the government does not design a better plan, it will bring more stress to drivers.”
San Chey, founder of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA), said dividing up districts would be an expensive undertaking and it was time for the government at district and commune levels to be transparent about their budgets.
“If district officials are closer to people, but public services are still the same, it’s not good to be creating more districts,” he said. “We have seen the government order local authorities to post public [spending], but they don’t follow orders.”
In 2010, more than 20 communes were cut from Kandal province and incorporated into four Phnom Penh districts: Dangkor, Russey Keo, Meanchey and Sen Sok. Dangkor was later split in two, creating Por Sen Chey district.
District authorities said at the time that the creation of a new district was necessary because Dangkor was “too wide to govern”. Since the split, the Post has reported on a number of infrastructure issues that have been hampering villagers in Por Sen Chey district.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL
Our City Festival is Cambodia’s first and only public festival to bring together creatives in Cambodian cities to focus on urbanism and its influence on contemporary culture.
After years of war and devastation, many Cambodian creatives are focusing on building the future. The cultural and creative fields are pioneering concepts to develop cities, empower citizens and participate in global innovation. Without government or institutional support these cultural activities rely entirely on personal contributions and sponsorship. Our City Festival 2014 needs financial support to fund projects by artists, architects and designers to imagine a better future.
Our City Festival (OCF) brings together artists, curators, architects, designers and the wider public to create, celebrate and look critically at the development of cities and communities in Cambodia. Through art and architecture themed events, exhibitions, conferences, performances, screenings, educational workshops and the active involvement of the youth and citizens, OCF fosters creation and discussion in a spirit of accessibility, learning and innovation for all.
(Public Square, Anida Yoeu Ali, OCF2011)
OCF strongly believes that change is led by the creative forces of a city and the festival aims to empower that process. It is a platform for Cambodian creatives and youth to celebrate their own voice, create their own vision, ignite their imaginations and engage the public.
For its 6th edition, OCF will span across the country to include three of the largest cities in Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap – from 16-23 of January 2014. An exhibition of creative projects will be showcased with pop up events and exhibitions happening around each city with our festival partners.
Current festival partners include: Amrita Performing Arts, Apexart, ChildSafe International, Epic Arts, Institut Francais, Meta House, UNESCO, UN Habitat, and more to be announced with the final program!
(Kaley, the giant crocodile, Pich Sopheap, 2012)
(Water, curse or blessing?!, AEDES, 2012)
Our City Festival is invested in youth and their participation in city-making. In 2012, the festival launched the Youth Ambassadors Program offering opportunities to Cambodian students to get involved with projects, the festival and workshops that expand their experiences of the city and the impacts of the decisions they make on a daily basis. We have a strong focus on accessibility and reach out to young populations to attend and participate in the festival. Support youth and build the future!
(Youth Ambassadors and Princess Soma Norodom, 2012)
We believe that everyone’s contribution will help make Our City Festival a truly accessible and dynamic festival of art, architecture and ideas. Financial support is very important and necessary. While the festival is founded on community and volunteer participation, there are also hard costs involved. Financial contributions will help cover the costs associated with art production, events and a small team across Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap.
Help us to make this happen!
Since launching in 2008, OCF has presented over 100 projects at 60 sites, and worked with 500 participants in Cambodia. It is initiated and powered by JavaArts, a non-profit cultural enterprise that started in 2000 in Phnom Penh, where it operates as a gallery, residency program and art space.
The Our City Festival 2014 team hail from around the world, with experience in arts, arts management and curating.
CITY CURATORS: City Curator: Phnom Penh, Sovan Philong; City Curator: Battambang, Mao Soviet; City Co-curators: Siem Reap, Oun Savann and Sasha Constable
PRODUCTION TEAM: Artistic Director and Founder, Dana Langlois; Marketing and Communications Manager, Daen Kelly; Partnership and Volunteer Manager, Olivia Wynne; Events Manager, Michelle O’Brien; Assistant Producers, Hang Sokunthea and Sok Kimheng
(Urban Lab interns, 2012)
Our City Festival is supported in part by the U.S. Embassy and ANZ Royal.
Cambodia is gearing up for more mass rallies, with up to 50,000 people slated to attend a three-day opposition demonstration beginning Wednesday.
MPs-elect for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are boycotting the National Assembly in protest at alleged irregularities they claim cost them victory in recent general elections. CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has demanded international intervention and also threatened a general strike. The turmoil has alreadyclaimed one life, and fears are growing of further bloodshed.
The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of strongman Prime Minster Hun Sen, who has held power for 33 years, won 68 out of 123 legislative seats at the ballot box on July 28. However, the opposition claims they were defrauded out of eight seats that would have swung the balance of power. “It is frustrating [not being in parliament], but we are all united behind the boycott,” says Keo Phirum, a CNRP MP-elect for Kratie province.
Not everyone agrees that the CNRP won the most votes. Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, says that opposition politicians “should just admit that they didn’t get enough votes” and instead “emphasize there were significant irregularities.” Allegations of vote buying, intimidation and “ghost voters” swooping in to sway borderline constituencies have also not stopped international governments from tentatively recognizing Hun Sen’s victory.
Nonetheless, discontent over land rights, deforestation, extractive industries and rampant corruption is running high, and a groundswell of opposition is developing as people sense that change may finally be possible. “It is remarkable, the absence of CPP supporters in public, on TV or radio,” says prominent political analyst Lao Mong Hay.
Even when CPP supporters are encountered, they may not be what they appear to be. TIME spoke to a group of Phnom Penh residents who said they festooned their homes with progovernment banners purely for the benefit for visiting officials, and that they really supported the opposition.
Buoyed by this unprecedented public movement, Sam Rainsy has entered negotiations with Hun Sen and reportedly demanded that his party receive the key post of National Assembly president plus six of the 12 committee-chairmen positions in exchange for taking their seats. Hun Sen has laughed off the demands (“Have you ever seen, anywhere in the world, a minority party holding the position of the president of parliament?” he asked reporters) but is clearly perturbed and has erected barricades around his official residence.
In the meantime, a game of brinkmanship continues. “There could be trouble during this week’s protests as our feedback from supporters is that we have been too soft so far,” one CNRP insider tells TIME. “If we compromise now, [our supporters] are never going to vote for us again.”
Some say that the CNRP is being pushed to take on Hun Sen by hard-line members of the Cambodian diaspora, who are among the party’s chief financial backers. The fear is that Hun Sen will respond by ordering a bloody crackdown, exacerbating the crisis further. “The government is so prone to making [those kind of] mistakes,” says Ou Virak, who calls the CNRP position “irresponsible” and urges compromise.
(PHOTOS: Displaced: The Cambodian Diaspora)
In this climate, many see the need for a broker to engineer a settlement acceptable to both sides. However, the most obvious candidate, King Norodom Sihamoni, has distanced himself from the crisis and also refused a CNRP request to delay the National Assembly opening while electoral irregularities were investigated. “Compared with his father, [King Sihamoni] is so weak in so many ways,” said Lao Mong Hay. (Cambodia’s revered King Norodom Sihanouk postponed parliament in 2003 amid a comparable deadlock.)
The CNRP plans to march Wednesday with a petition to the U.N. and at least seven foreign embassies calling for international intervention. However, the city authorities have only granted permission to hold a stationary demonstration of no more than 10,000 people at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, citing traffic concerns and the inability to guarantee the safety of a larger crowd.
Judging by the 20,000 people who turned up to similar protests last month, there is little chance of these conditions being followed. Troops remain a fixture on the streets of the capital, and with two bitter adversaries unwilling to compromise, a country holds its breath.
Flooding death toll tops 100
Thu, 10 October 2013
The death toll from flooding that has affected nearly all of Cambodia has hit 104, the National Committee of Disaster Management said yesterday. With more than 60,000 people having been evacuated, relief agencies are raising concerns over disease outbreak.
The most heavily hit province was Kampong Cham, where 26 people alone have died from flooding, NCDM vice chairman Nhim Vanda said.
“Now, we’ve completely tallied the reports from local authorities and can confirm that 104 people have died,” he said.
A report by the Humanitarian Response Forum released on Monday expressed concern over insufficient sanitation and water in evacuated areas where the risk is high of disease outbreak and contaminated food.
Yesterday, 600 families were evacuated from the Banan district in Battambang before water released from the Kampong Pouy basin caused a flash flood, Buth Sambo, a police chief of Banan district, said. He denied rumors that the Kampong Pouy basin was broken or collapsing.
In Banteay Meanchey, 19 military doctors have been sent by the Defence Ministry to treat more than 500 families evacuated in Poipet town, Deputy District Governor Men Sophan said.
Though water has inundated the halls and reaches up to a metre high outside the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison complex, prison authorities have taken no steps to evacuate inmates.
The prison is known to flood every year, but rights organisations are calling this flooding the worst seen since the detention centre opened in 2009.
“We have not taken any moves to evacuate the prisoners, because we can control the situation,” Banteay Meanchey prison director Hin Sophal said. “The water is creeping into the staff rooms, but it cannot go to the prisoners’ rooms.”
According to rights groups, with the building flooded, prisoners are not able to leave their overcrowded cells, leading to numerous sanitation and mental health concerns.
“We are concerned that if the water continues rising, the authorities will have to evacuate the prisoners to somewhere.…They are humans, not rocks …so they can escape when evacuated,” Som Chankear, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said.
Though the Ministry of Interior has said it plans to prevent the cells from flooding through sandbag banks and continuous water pumping, neither the ministry nor the prison had an idea of where the prisoners could be taken if necessary.
“It is normal, and where the prisoners stay is safe,” Kuy Bun Sorn, director general of the department of prisons in the Ministry of Interior, said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAIGNEE BARRON
Raw sewage spewed onto Street 105 from the antiquated discharge canal running parallel to it yesterday as heavy rains continued to create headaches in the capital.
The putrid water lipped homes and local business on the street in Chamkarmon’s Boeung Trabek commune, alarming residents.
Pich Panha, 20, a local resident living about 17 metres from the open sewage canal, said the water had been steadily rising for two days.
“We’re worried about getting dengue fever [from the mounting sitting water] so we’re trying to be extra careful,” Pich Panha said, against a backdrop of thigh-high sewage water brimming with floating trash and discarded bottles.
The city was pelted with heavy rain that began at about 3pm on Tuesday and continued until around 5:30pm, according to Touch Meas Snguon, a 38-year-old motorbike taxi driver renting a room dangerously close to the odorous overflow.
“I could not make money today. My motorbike is broken after I drove it through the water last night,” Snguon said.
But Snguon noted that locals were accustomed to living around wastewater and rarely got sick, while repeatedly emphasising it was rainwater, not sewage, seeping onto the street.
Water levels at Boeung Trabek Pumping Station hit six metres on Monday night following heavy rain, up from the normal 3.6-metre mark, 71-year-old Em Sothat, an employee at the station, said.
“We usually use only three machines to pump water, but since Tuesday night, five more machines have been used,” Sothat said, adding that the water hit peak levels this year during Tuesday’s downpour.
Togo Uchida, a project formulation adviser in charge of environment and climate change at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the organisation has been working with City Hall since 1999 to repair and expand the city’s existing drainage system.
“What I’ve heard unofficially is the pumping system [connected to Boeung Trabek Pumping Station] is manned by eight pipes. The issue with the open sewage channel, one which City Hall has been working to improve for many years, is maintaining the channel’s cleanliness,” Uchida said.
Wastewater travels through Phnom Penh’s central piping through the open canals to Boeung Trabek.
It is then partially purified by morning glory and lotus growing in waters north of the station. Chreang Sophan, a deputy governor in the capital, cited climate change and a rapidly growing urban population as among the blockades slowing repair of citywide drainage systems.
“The population is growing very fast, [faster than] most of our drainage systems have expanded,” Sophan said.
Both Uchida and Sophan highlighted how skyrocketing urban development is outpacing expansion of the city’s drainage system, a key component in City Hall and JICA’s frequently criticised execution of the project.