Investigative Report: People’s Health Affected by Kratie’s Garbage Dumpsite

   
Dumpsite in Kratie.    

What has happened on people in Phsar village and other communes in Chitr Borie district?

Mrs. Aing Sivlim’s body was pale. She told the reporter of VOD that she had had an incurable gastrointestinal disease for two years.

She said, “It has been two years that I did not go [to work] because of health problem [sick], but going to work is so tired; firstly, we need to keep good hygiene of our residence by not letting any garbage to be thrown here, and we have to clean our residence; there are many flies landing on the place where we have meal. We sprinkle the surface with water, we clean it, but the flies still land on it until it looks black; We also adhere to principles of dharma, we think that it contrasts to the principles of dharma, but sometimes we still hit them, we place a pad for them to land on then we burn it, but we still cannot prevent it.”

Mrs. Sivlim and people in Phsar village in the vicinity of O Kantuot thought that they were sick because of the nearby dumpsite.

Mrs. Sivlim said that most people living in the same village as her had farmland in the vicinity of O Kantuot where people had grown crop, Yardlong bean, mung bean, cucumber, wax gourd, and so on.

People said that it had been more than four years since the dumpsite in the vicinity of O Kantuot, located on a land surface area of 5 hectares in Phsar village, Kratie province, had released odor, and it had also been where sewage had leaked then flowed into the water reservoir which people had used since Pol Pot regime.

     
     Sewage flowing from the dumpsite to the reservoir.

People living in that area stated that a serious problem they were facing was that during rainy season, sewage runoff from that dumpsite had been mixed with rain water then flowed into a reservoir, entitled “O Kantuot Reservoir”, remain from Pol Pot regime. That reservoir was about 2 kilometers from that dumpsite. People said that they, hundred families living in two communes, had suffered health problem because they had used water from that stream.

Sitting on a chair under his house, Mr. Heng Sok stated that he had a lung disease (affected his respiratory system), sometimes he had a diarrhea, and he coughed and had a flu. Mr. Heng Sok said that his diseased was caused by oder from that dumpsite and use of water from O Kantuot stream.

Mr. Sok continued that he wished to stop using water from O Kantuot stream and escape from that dumpsite, but he had no other choice; he had to travel to stay at a farmland in the vicinity of that dumpsite though he was exposed to health problem in order to generate income to support his family’s livelihood.

Mr. Sok continued that “garbage has released [odor]; we are hard to breath, it leads to cough, mucus, lung problem; when we inhale and exhale, the odor becomes stronger. Though it affects us, but we still have to live here because if we move to live where [people grow rice], we cannot make money, and here is where we have made a permanent living; we cannot leave here, otherwise we will lose the source of our income”.

Sitting under a wooden house and wearing quite old clothes, Mrs. Khuoch Sreymom, over 50 years old, living in Kantuot village, Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, told the reported while her face was scowling that once between one to three days “a private waste collection company of Kratie city” transported garbage in three to four truck from Kratie provincial town to be disposed in Phsar village, about 2 kilometers from O Kantuot Reservoir. She said that scattering the garbage like that made her worry that it will affect environment and health. 

“During dry season, they burn a mountain of [garbage], on land surface measuring about 100 to 200 meters; when we go to another side [of the village], we talk to one another, but along the way, we close our mouth, our nose and do not dare to breath; it is disgusted” said Mrs. Khuoch Sreymom.

There are more than ten thousand (10,111) people in Da commune, Chitr Borie district, and more than seven thousand (7,454) people in Kantuot commune, Chitr Borie district.

According to what people said, the health problems they were facing include skin rash, lung disease (affecting respiratory system), dengue fever, headache, flu, stomach disease, intestinal disease and various other problems. As for cow and buffalo, when they drank that water, their stomachs were bloated, and they also had blackleg disease.

Mr. Saing Yet, who was affirmed as a guard of a farmland near the dumpsite, informed us that whenever it was raining, there were puddles around it, they released odor and led to many mosquitoes and flies. In this regard, he said that he had disease because he drank the water from the said Kantuot stream.

“Previously, I went to see doctor in Kratie, I spent 870 thousand riels because I have kidney stone. We normally drink water, and the water is not good although we have boiled it, it is still not good. Now, I have already had a surgery. The doctor said that if I am lazy to buy medicine in Kratie, I can stay at a private hospital and buy [medicine] at a commune hospital. I buy medicine once for three days, and when it runs out, it will become painful again, the subject on which the surgery has been performed was painful because we work hard” said Mr. Saing Yet.

Background of the dumpsite and technique of waste management

The dumpsite is located in Phsar village, Chitr Borie district, Kratie province. This dumpsite is located on a land surface area of about 5 hectares. It was created by the Provincial Department of Environment in 2013 by spending an amount of 8,000 US dollars.

People stated that truck transported garbage from four Sangkats, including Sangkat Kratie, Sangkat O Russey, Sangkat Kako and Sangkat Roka Kandal, to be disposed in Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, at least three time per day, and there were four big trucks per time.

Mr. Tok Kun, the owner of a garbage collection company or entitled Waste Collection Company of Kratie City, stated that his company had entered into a contract with the Kratie City Hall once a year in exchange for transporting garbage from the city to be disposed in the dumpsite, located in Phsar village, Kantuot commune, Chitr Borie district. However, he said that during rainy season, he directed his workers to dispose the garbage in the former dumpsite, located in Sokram island where was prohibited by the City Hall; whereas, during dry season, the garbage was disposed in the dumpsite near O Kantuot reservoir, located in Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, which he could transported about 20 metric tons per day.

   
Placard with environmental preservation message in Kratie.    

Pursuant to the Environmental Guidelines on Solid Waste Management in the Kingdom of Cambodia in 2006 which was jointly created by the Ministry of Environment and the Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization, in 2016, there were specific demands in relation to construction and maintenance of dumpsite. Article 37 of these guidelines stated that “the garbage collecting company who is an operator of the dumpsite shall abide by technical conditions and environmental protection rules set forth by the Ministry of Environment. In case there is any case of environmental pollution as a result of any operator, the dumpsite operator shall take immediate action to stop its operation and make an immediate report of the incidence to the Capital, district, city, Khan administrations and the Department of Environment of the capital or that province."

Nonetheless, people in Chitr Borie district made similar statements that the Garbage Collecting Company in Chitr Borie failed to abide these guidelines.

The Chief of Kratie Provincial Department of Environment, Mr. Chhay Duong Savuth, acknowledged that the dumpsite mentioned by people truly had odor and affected health. He said that in 2013, the Form Chief of the Department of Environment used to make a request of budget at an amount of 300 million riels to the Provincial Department of Finance in order to renovate the dumpsite in that area, but the Department of Finance stated that the State did not have enough budget package.

However, Mr. Chhay Duong Savuth stated that the Department of Environment was entitled to request for technical assistance only, and regarding actual implementation, the Government delegated power to the Provincial and City Governors to implement those works

“This is the work of the Provincial Authorities and him [Garbage Collecting Company, the Department inspects the technical section only, if he did not clean it well, we always direct him to clean it regularly, or for instance, if there is any garbage in front of a house or there is blockage at any important area, we always ask him regarding the reason or how it has happened; we always motivate him to do it well” said Mr. Chhay Duong Savuth.

Mr. Duong Savuth stated that according to a plan of the Ministry and Province, another 10 to 15 hectares of land might have been expanded near the dumpsite in Chitr Borie district, Kratie Province.

When we asked whether it could lead to more serious effect on people health while the old place was affecting the source of water used by people, Mr. Duong Savuth responded that for development, effect on people health was inevitable, but he also said that before the expansion of that location, relevant institutions also needed to conduct a technical study with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in order to reduce the effect but not letting it reach many people.

He said that “regarding the dumpsite, in fact, we already have land for it, we expand land to be kept as the State’s property and arrange a dumpsite; in my opinion, any kind of development, arrangement of the dumpsite, always has effect, but for the effect, they always have plan to solve it, we cannot consider of only 4 or 10 people who are against the other people in the Provincial Town, and for the plan of the Governor, he has organized it in order to develop it and that area to become a technically standard dumpsite”.

On August 27, 2015, the Government issued the Sub-decree on Urban Garbage and Solid Waste Management. Article 7 of this Sub-decree has set forth broad roles and responsibilities by directing the City and Provincial Administrations to support, coordinate and encourage the solid waste management in their cities and districts.

Article 30 of this Sub-decree on Urban Garbage and Solid Waste Management stated that “the City and Khan Administrations shall bear responsibilities for urban garbage and solid waste management under their jurisdiction in effective, transparent and accountable manners and shall not affect the environment”.

According to a report on study and analysis of Policy Implementation of the Advocacy and Policy Institution (API), it was revealed that regarding the garbage issue in Chitr Borie district, the commune authorities of Chitr Borie and Kantuot commune said that they were not delegated any function of town solid waste management. This reveal assured that it was contrary to the Sub-decree on Solid Waste Management which had provided those roles to cities and Khans (Articles 30 and 36).

The owner of the Waste Collection Company of Kratie City, Mr. Tok Kun, stated that the Provincial Governor and him as well as other relevant institutions used to conduct an on-site study on effect of that dumpsite, but the State institutions and the company did not have enough budget to renovate that dumpsite to be a standard one, and they were waiting for help from the Asian Development regarding this issue.

As for compliance with the standardized technique for garbage management in accordance with the Sub-decree, Mr. TOK Kun stated that his company was yet to have capacity to comply with the technique for garbage management in accordance with the Sub-decree and the Direction of the City Hall, that was why it led to effect to people health in that area.

He said that “in fact, we have yet to have a standard, and we acknowledge the effect, but as for a method of preventing sewage from flowing into the edge of the stream [Kantuot]…, we acknowledge it, and now the project has been working with ADB, and His Excellency the Deputy Governor EU Siyet also went to work on it, but we implement in stages, we cannot implement according to what they want”.

Is there any relation between the people disease and the dumpsite?

The Chairperson of Health Center of Da Commune, Mrs. Sem Chanthou, said that there were only a few patients being suffered from the dumpsite in Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, were hospitalized for treatment of diarrhea, cough, flu, fever and skin rash at the Health Center of Da Commune, and it was not much as what had been stated by some people.

She said that “for patients from that area, there were not many from [Da commune] where I live, most of them came from Kantuot because there is only one entry, and distance from that area is closer than mine, and in Da commune, there were not many people suffering [health] effect… There were only a few people… one to two people per month”.

As for a private physician in Kantuot commune, Chitr Borie district, Katie province, who requested not to reveal her name, said that one to three patients using water from Kantuot stream had come to receive treatment of diseases at her house per day. Those diseases included diarrhea, skin rash, stomach disease, intestinal disease, cough, flu, malaria and so on, while such diseases occurred because they did not keep good hygiene and used unclean water.

She said that “the Ministry of Health and Health Center [doctor] should come to help give them some instructions, such as how to keep good hygiene, educating them on how to use water with good hygiene, we should not use dirty water; if we already see it and we live in that area, we should not use it in order to prevent ourselves from having diarrhea, vomiting, stomach and intestinal problems, skin rash, but if we use unclean water, those diseases always occur”.

Report of UNICEF revealed that sewage could lead to diarrhea, and they found that it killed more than seven hundred thousand of children under five years old every year. Diarrhea could also make children have stunted growth and affected their physical and mental development.

Solution to Health Problem Remains Unclear

A 53-year-old man, Mr. Khen Khun, stood near the dumpsite and his finger was pointing at the sewage runoff from that dumpsite. He said that the people affected by this sewage made requests to the Government and relevant institutions in the province and within the locality to re-inspect this issue in order to protect the people from having serious diseases in the future.

“I wish that they could do anything to prevent it [sewage] from running off from this dumpsite into the stream [Kantuot Stream Reservoir]” If it enters the stream, it affects people, but it could be prevented from running off, it might not have any effect. For example, if there is an effect, everyone in the whole family will get sick, it is seriously harmful for the family, where everyone is sick and there is no one taking care of them” said Mr. Khen Khun.

In response to this case, the Chairperson of Health Center of Kantuot Commune, Mr. SAR Mala, acknowledged that people truly had diseases as stated by the above private physician, and he said that his working group used to attend meeting in the commune in order to provide education on healthcare to the Village Chief, Commune Chief and some village volunteers in order for them to disseminate the information to people in the village and commune. However, he said that he did not know whether they followed those instructions.

Nonetheless, Mr. Mala had provided advises to people in Kantuot commune, especially people living in the vicinity of the dumpsite to be highly careful of it and do not use unclean water.

He said that “do not use [water] near the dumpsite, garbage leads to dermatology, diarrhea and various other respiratory diseases because dirty substances cause many effects; in particular, do not use that sewage”.

The Chief of Da Commune, Mr. Ban Sa Om, gave information that in Da commune did not enough wells to be provided to people for use; in this regard, most people used sewage run off from the dumpsite into Kantuot stream. However, he said that nowadays, the Commune Office had yet to have any solution regarding digging enough wells for people due to the fact that the commune did not have enough budget.

He said that “some of the budget has been spent on erecting wells, some on road and dirt road constructions; there are damages to roads, and the budget is not enough… If we erect it right now, roads are damaged, along the roads within the locality of any village, there are shortage of well, and now I don’t know what I should do”.

The Chief of Kantuot Commune, Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, Mr. Tob Horn, said that in the previous mandate, the former Commune Chief and he, as the Commune Council, made a report to the higher level to ask for help regarding the problem of the dumpsite, but to date, there is yet to have any solution.

Nonetheless, in this mandate, Mr. Horn committed that he would help intervene this issue to the relevant institutions one more time in order to prevent the effect to the health of people in that area.

“Since the last mandate, we have tried hard to make a report to the [Department] of Environment, the Department of Rural Development, also the Health Division at the national level to request a correction for the first time then requested the correction for the second time; the Department of Environment said that they would correct it and make a reservoir by not letting the sewage to flow into it! Since then, everything remains the same, it has been about one mandate of the council, about 5 years or a bit less than that. I will put more effort for people health as well as my health since I also drank that water. It affects not only human, but also animals and fish; actually, at beginning of last year, Kantuot stream reservoir was flooded, and all fishes died due to pollution”, said Mr. Tob Horn.

The Chief of Da Commune, Mr. BAN Sa Um, said that he used to intervene in this problem and made a request to the higher lever to provide annual national budget to the commune in order to help solve the problem by digging wells for people, but he said that the national budget received from higher level was about 8 million riels and received once every three months; in this regard, it could not dig enough wells for people because that budget shall also be divided for construction of road, drainage, and so on.

Though the response was like that, that Commune Chief stated that the commune working group and relevant institutions were cooperating with the Asian Development Bank to conduct a technical study in order to manage the garbage in that area in order to reduce the effects to people health.

A Land and Human Rights Investigating Officer of ADHOC Human Rights Association in Kratie Province, Mr. BE Vanny, said that the Department of Environment should find a new location for recycling the garbage to be standardized in order not to affect the environment and people health. He stated that if the authorities failed to seek a solution for the people, people would lose trust on the leadership of the Government.

“If the local authorities do not seek a solution or put their efforts in serving the people and let the problem continues into the future, I think the Government would lose its supporting vote or its popularity” said Mr. BE Vanny.

Mr. Tok Kun, the owner of the garbage collecting company in Kratie province, stated that he wished to develop the dumpsite in order to eliminate the effects to people health, but he said that there was not enough budget for organizing the structure in that area while the company could earn only 4 thousand dollars per month.

“How we could eliminate the effect completely since now I cannot afford the cost of making a standardized landfill, because it costs hundred thousand dollars, and even the provincial authorities, they do not have enough money to make a standardized one. Nowadays, I don’t want to do it because I do not get profit, it is only enough for food, and I talked all about it, I just reach the break even, some money is put into the pocket and some for car repair” said Mr. Tok Kun.

The Governor of Kratie City, Mr. Yin Vannak, said that the City Hall also wished to develop the dumpsite to be a standard one, but he said that the State did not have enough national budget for developing that area. He said in order for Kratie city to become a beautiful city, the City Hall had authorized a private garbage collecting company whose owner, named TOK Kun, had entered into contract for helping transport the garbage in order to clean the city, but he said that the company did not know how to standardize the waste recycling.

Mr. Yin Vannak stated that currently the City Hall was cooperating with relevant institutions as well as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in order to make that area to a standard dumpsite in order to stop its effect to the people health.

“In the name of Kratie City Administration, we request the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help support the arrangement of that dumpsite to become a standard one. Nowadays, the working group is conducting a study, and I think that in the future, our Kratie City will have a dumpsite which is in accordance with technical specifications and then people in the surrounding area can be away what they are worried about” said Mr. Yin Vannak.

Nonetheless, Mr. Vannak did not state the time of the project to be carried out for developing the dumpsite in Chitr Borie district, but he said that the Asian Development Bank [ADB] was conducting a study on it and collecting relevant reports first.

People living in Da commune who requested not to reveal their names stated that they wished that the relevant authorities could dig a deep well then lay cement on its base and on the surrounding wall or it would be better if the locate of that dumpsite could have been moved to anywhere which was far from Kantuot stream reservoir because it would affect the people health.

People said “we wish that they could erect a deep brick tank [dumpsite] in order for the sewage not to be leaked into stream and ditch the it flows downstream, and when we use that water, it affects us, even though we sterilize it, we still cannot guarantee, and when we put too much chemical substance, the water will have some smell which we almost don’t have pure water for using”.

Nonetheless, affected people in the commune showed their worries in similar ways; if the relevant authorities did not develop that dumpsite to be a standard one, people in their village would continue to have diseases, and they would waste time for generating income to support their families.

The Chief of Da Commune, Chitr Borie district, Kratie province, Mr. BAN Sa Um, said that in many years lately, he observed that the provide garbage collecting company had transported garbage to be disposed in Chet Borey district, near Kantuot stream reservoir; however, after many people complained about it in June 2017, the garbage collecting company started to transport garbage to be disposed in the former location on Sokram island, half a kilometer far from Da village, Da commune, and this case also affected the people health and environment as well as people living in O Kantuot commune.

The Commune Chief directed the Village Chief to tell the workers transporting garbage that it was not authorized to be disposed on Sokram island, and it must have been disposed in Chitr Borie district, near Kantuot stream reservoir, but he said that those workers did not follow him, and they said that during rainy season, there was much rainfall, and it was hard to enter Chitr Borie district due to difficult access road. Mr. Sa Um stated that he would make a request to relevant institutions to take an intervention in order to protect health and environment of that area.

“Tomorrow [20 July 2017], I will ask someone to start making the request then send it to the District Authorities in order for the District Authorities to direct them, and if they still do not follow, we will forward it to the Provincial Authorities to seek a solution to avoid scattering the garbage and to avoid affecting the people health”, said Mr. BAN Sa Um.