During the groundbreaking ceremony of Boeung Kak construction on July 11th, 2011, H.E Kep Chuk Tema, a former Phnom Penh governor, explained the government’s theory for the development of Phnom Penh. The city is a basin and lower than sea level, which is why it is surrounded by many lakes. The Capital can only be expanded and developed by “reclaiming” some of these lakes such as Boeung Techo (where Central Market stands today), Boeung Raing, Boeung Keng Kang, Ou Russey, and well as other lakes. Therefore, the filling of lakes around the city is necessary and cannot be avoided. As a result, many lakes in Phnom Penh have been filled and used as land for housing and other infrastructure projects to help cope with the population growth in the city. Over the past few years, two major lakes have been filled and have received a lot attention from the public as well as the international community. These two lake projects are the Boeung Kak construction and Beoung Tompun development project.
The transformation of Boeung Kak started in 2011, as mentioned earlier. The groundbreaking ceremony was chaired by H.E Kep Chuk Tema, along with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Boeung Kak is one of the largest lakes in the city (133 hectares including the surrounding area). This lake area was inhabited by 10 villages with about 4,000 families located in Sangkat Boeung Kak I & II of the Toul Kork district and Sangkat Srah Chak of the Doun Penh district. The Cambodian government awarded 99-year lease to a private Chinese company named Shukaku Inc in February 2007. The company is aiming to develop the area into a satellite city based on its master plan, which was approved by the Council for Development of Cambodia and the Phnom Penh City Hall. This area will then become high-end residential, commercial, and tourism complex with business centers, department stores, conference halls, hotels, universities, hospitals, and other infrastructure. According to H.E Kep Chuk Tema, the development of Beoung Kak will also help reduce traffic congestion around the area in addition to the establishment of a modernized satellite city.
The other major lake project going on in the capital is the Boeung Tompun development project. Boeung Tompun is located in the Meanchey district covering around 2,600 hectares of land with 520 hectares of surface water and is believed to be home to over 700 families. During the groundbreaking ceremony of Boeung Kak construction, H.E Kep Chuk Tema also announced similar a development plan for Boeung Tompun since the government had already approved a joint-venture project in 2009 between unnamed local and foreign firms to develop Boeung Tompun as a satellite city as well. Boeung Tompun, one of the largest lakes in Phnom Penh, has been a vital source of living for the residents around the area. Every day, residents would pick morning glory or go fishing in the lake. In addition, the lake acts a reservoir that stores rainwater from the city. The water travels through a network of pipes, into open canals or an underground drainage system and is finally released into this natural lake that lies to the south of the city. Without this giant lake, the city will face serious flood issues during the rainy season. Moreover, the lake plays another major role as a natural treatment center before the wastewater goes into the river. The morning glory and water mimosa that are grown in the lake are biologically equipped to treat the wastewater by capturing and reutilizing nutrients before releasing the water into the Bassac River. According to a 2006 report from the European Commission’s International Scientific Cooperation, this natural system of treating wastewater in Phnom Penh is an effective, low cost means of biological treatment of the city’s wastewater since the capital does not have a hi-tech wastewater treatment plant.
However, there is also certainly a need for the development of these so-called satellite cities due to the steady increase in city population and the economic growth of the country. H.E Kep Chuktema admitted that the challenges from development are inevitable, but the issues will be facilitated and solved according to the principles of the Royal Government. Nonetheless, the impact of such development is massive and will affect the residents as well as the capital in several ways.
The development of Boeung Kak relocated thousands of families. Despites the estimation that 3,500 families were coerced into accepting meager compensation, there are still a number of families struggling to claim their land. Boeung Tompun residents have aired similar concerns. One resident of Boeung Tompun said that the community was worried that their resettlement might end up like Boeung Kak with unreasonable compensation.
These two giant lakes served as a basin to store rainwater. When Boeung Kak and Boeung Tompun were filled in with sand, it caused flooding in the surrounding villages as well as in the city because the water had nowhere else to go. As a result, the capital is continuously flooded when it rains, and the residents are very irritated.
With the removal of Boeung Tompun, which acted as the natural treatment center for wastewater, the wastewater is released straight into the Bassac River. This causes serious pollution of the river, which in turn affects the health of Phnom Penh residents as well as the environment as a whole.
All in all, the lake development project in Phnom Penh might be necessary for the growth of the capital, but it requires more alternatives and solutions to deal with the serious challenges posed by the development. For example, the government and the private development companies need to make sure the residents in the affected areas get proper compensation and similar living conditions. In addition, the government must find a way to deal with the flooding and wastewater problems as mentioned above so that Phnom Penh city can have sustainable development.