Fleeing Sewage, Houseboat Fleet Floats Into Phnom Penh
The Cambodia Daily | 3 May 2017
Hundreds of floating houses have been snaking down the Tonle Sap river to central Phnom Penh over the past few days, fleeing what one boat owner described on Tuesday as an influx of sewage that killed a massive amount of fish.
“All the fish died, and the water turned smelly and black,” said Mann Ream, 65, who has been farming fish in cages beneath her floating house since 1979, when she relocated to Phnom Penh’s Kilometer 7 neighborhood in Russei Keo district. “It smelled like sewage.”
Towed by boats, the flotilla of wooden houses has been slowly making its way along the river since Sunday. As Ms. Ream and dozens of other fish farmers who also live above their stock guided their homes under the Chroy Changva bridge on Tuesday at lunchtime, hundreds of people crowded against the railing and along the riverbanks to watch and take photographs of the unusual sight.
For Ms. Ream, the trip downriver has been a costly inconvenience.
When her fish started dying on Sunday, Ms. Ream could have lost up to 6 million riel, or about $1,500. She saved hundreds of dollars by selling the already-dead fish for a little less than half the price of live fish.
Sewage has killed the farmers’ fish stocks before, and the hundreds of families who farm in the Tonle Sap at Kilometer 7 used to guide their homes downstream once every few years, according to Ms. Ream, who estimated between 200 and 300 floating houses had joined the latest exodus.
But the problem has grown worse in the past three or four years as the capital has expanded and sewage treatment systems have failed to keep pace. In recent years, boat owners have had to move two or three times a year due to fish deaths, sometimes for several days at a time, Ms. Ream said.
According to Taber Hand, a researcher who has studied fisheries on the Tonle Sap and Mekong River for more than 20 years, fish deaths like this are often the result of untreated sewage being pumped into the river.
“The black water sucks out oxygen because of the high biological oxygen demand” of microbes that feed on the sewage, Mr. Hand said. The problem is exacerbated after heavy rains flood the city’s sewage systems, pushing their contents into waterways, he said.
When black water began seeping under her home on Sunday, Ms. Ream suspected the most recent flush of sewage came from 2 km north of the boat’s usual spot, in Svay Pak commune.
Reporters who visited the riverbank in Svay Pak on Tuesday saw a stream of black water, about 5 meters wide, that smelled strongly of sewage. It flowed between wooden homes raised on stilts, making its way directly into the Tonle Sap. A pool of black water formed where the stream met the river before it faded into a greenish-blue hue.
[Svay Pak, the
epicenter of child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation.
["Svay Pak is known around the world as a place
where pedophiles come to get little girls," says Brewster, whose
organization, Agape International Missions (AIM), has girls as young as
four in its care, rescued from traffickers and undergoing rehabilitation
in its safehouses....
[Svay Pak, a dusty shantytown on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, is at the heart of this exploitative trade.
[As one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in
one of Asia's poorest countries – nearly half the population lives on
less than $2 per day -- the poverty in the settlement is overwhelming.
The residents are mostly undocumented Vietnamese migrants, many of whom
live in ramshackle houseboats on the murky Tonle Sap River, eking out a
living farming fish in nets tethered to their homes.]