Phnom Penh / Civic Awareness

Civic awareness does contribute to the current situation as well.

First of all, Cambodians, having accustomed to an unhygienic living condition, have had a habit of throwing away rubbish into drains. This inevitably caused the sewage system to fail. Even if it was not to be aging, clogging up them would only make the infrastructure remain like handicapped. Of course, the issue is actually a loop. When it floods, no matter it is a rubbish bin or a landfill, rubbish would float and be carried away by the water, which very likely they would end up in and clog up the drain openings. And things just go worse.

Secondly, since flooding is too common in Cambodia, to an extent we Hong Kongers can hardly imagine, the problem is not always a big deal, unless it really kills (Fig. 1&2). Sadly has flooding already become a part of Cambodians’ everyday life, Daniel Otis writes, “while Chamroern hopes that municipal authorities will fix the problem, he’s not holding his breath. Like most Phnom Penh residents, he doesn’t expect his city to be able to solve issues like this. Because of decades of conflict, no precedent has been set to this effect, and today essential public works projects are often crippled by a lumbering bureaucracy, disinterest and endemic corruption. Chamroern, however, is neither angry nor resigned to his watery conundrum. If anything, he’s nonchalant, a common attitude here that often manifests as a type of haphazard pragmatism that helps Phnom Penh thrive despite flooding and administrative indifference.” This paragraph pretty much sums up the situation. It is also believed that the fact that Cambodia has gone through its very difficult ages of civil wars and the deadly Khmer Rouge also contributed to how Cambodians react to these “natural disasters”.

It might seem that people are not fully aware of what they are capable of doing and the whole society remains rather pessimistic and passive. But it is hard to judge when you are not one of them and when you have never really experienced what they confront every single day.


Figure 1&2 – “Even during major flooding, life in the city goes on largely as normal.” (Source: Daniel Otis)



Otis, D. (2013, November 4). Can Japanese Engineering Fix Phnom Penh’s Creaky Drainage Infrastructure? Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

2 Comments on “Phnom Penh / Civic Awareness

  1. It is interesting to see a man smiling while his home is flooded. I do agree that it is hard to judge when we have never experienced this before. What I understand from your article is that there are no ways to solve the flooding problems as people lack the awareness while the government projects always fail due to corruption. If that’s the case, what would u suggest to solve this problem as the flooding problem is actually a long lasting problem since many years ago and hindering the urban growth of Phnom Penh?

  2. Actually when Cambodians were able to build a dam (with foreign investment/grant and technology), it is also possible for them to solve the problem. This entry below talks about the improvement of sewage system which the Cambodian government has been doing since 1999. However, as it has not been fully completed, it is hard to say whether it is effective yet. I personally think that a sewage system cannot go so wrong in solving the problem. It must have some improvements. But whether flooding would strike Phnom Penh again depends highly on whether the people have the determination to tackle it. If garbage is also an important reason of flooding, then Phnom Penh might need to consider incinerators or schemes about reduction in wastes.

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