How Long Can Hope Keep Despair Away? – Sunday, 2 November 2008

Posted on 3 November 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 584 |

On 29 October 2008 it was reported that the governor of Phnom Penh said: “In One More Week, Flood Water in Northern Phnom Penh Will Disappear.” Looking into the future, however, the following days brought Phnom Penh an unprecedented increase in floodwater, more sufferings, and the danger of an outbreak of water borne diseases.

The amount of rainfall is not predictable in detail, and some flooding happens every year during the rainy season. But recent flooding – already since a month ago – as regularly reported in the media, raises more questions than can be answered by referring to seasonal variations. Some schools have been flooded – and closed – for a month. A Phnom Penh road traffic police officer had complained some time ago that their office is flooded already for a month, without government intervention. The Royal University of Fine Arts – relocated outside of the city into a now flooded area, when its traditional location was “developed” for economic purposes, as well as several schools, cannot operate properly, because they have been flooded for weeks.

In contrast, there are more and more frustrated reports about the response by the authorities, as some of the long range concerns of experts with outstanding experience, like that of the architect Vann Molyvann, are not heeded. He claims that there is no systematical infrastructure planning for water management in Phnom Penh. Instead there are claims that the filling of several traditional flood water reservoirs, of ponds and of lakes, are the cause of floods: “…some houses collapsed and electricity and water was cut. Moreover, the company threatens and intimidates the residents.” Most recently, even the international media of China reported that flood victims who “took refuge in the Buddhist temple Wat Svay Popae, were ejected from a prominent corner park between the National Assembly and the Royal Palace. On Thursday, police used bullhorns to ask the villagers at the temple to return to their homes, and told some that they would be forcibly removed.”

Force cannot be the solution in such desperate situations.

The 200 residents from among the 4,000 families that are faced with removal from where they live at the Boeng Kak Lake region to make room for “development” and came to protest at the South Korean Embassy, to ask the Korean ambassador to intervene with the Shukaku company – supposedly from Korea – to stop dredging sand to fill the Boeng Kak Lake, dispersed in distress when they were told by the Embassy that the “development” at the lake is not undertaken by a Korean company. Other rumors lead to the opinion, also wrong, that the Shukaku company is Japanese – following a tendency to look for the origin of problem somewhere else.

It is difficult to understand how the authorities are pursuing plans to open a stock exchange in Cambodia in the absence of transparency on the most simple level of publicly available information, information about publicly operating companies involved in most prominent activities, like having a 99 years release to fill in most of the biggest lake in the city. Or, to cite another example: also the administration of the national memorial of the Killing Fields in Chung Ek, was privatized and given to a supposedly Japanese company; but neither the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh acknowledges that this is true, nor were local news media so far able to publish much about the identity of those who operate this historical memorial now as a tourist spot, without showing much sense in their business for the nature of this place.

At the background of all these problems is an imbalance, which the the Prime Minister addressed in February last year. His “11 Point Recommendations: ‘Over-Exploitation of Natural Resources Caused by Business Activities Will Result in the Loss of Natural Opportunities’” had a wider focus, but they address the fundamental problem, that economic interests are allowed to replace the concerns for the common good. When this speech was published in the Mirror, we had added the following comment to the Prime Minister’s speech, which is as true now as it was last year:

“This text can have far reaching consequences for the future of the country if implemented, and they are also an important contribution to present public controversies relating to the environmental impact of some activities.”

“…if implemented” – as was said as a condition.

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2 Responses to “How Long Can Hope Keep Despair Away? – Sunday, 2 November 2008”

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