Railway rehab affected families ask for ADB's assistance on their skyrocketing debts
The Royal Cambodian Railway is already operational offering several services including passenger accommodation going to different destinations of Cambodia. In fact, large numbers of people who ride the train are tourists going to Sihanoukville, 221.7 km away from Phnom Penh. The place is known as Krong Preah Sihanouk and is popular for its beaches, tropical islands and the mangrove jungles of Ream National Park.
In December 1998, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $40-million loan from the Royal Government of Cambodia to rehabilitate the 105.5-km portion of the Highway One (also known as HW1). The road project aimed to boost both domestic and regional economies by accelerating mobilization of people, goods, and services.
According to the documents by the ADB, it would minimize displacement of local villagers by realigning the road trace and constructing a by-pass to avoid densely populated areas, resulting in the relocation of a few households within the construction site.
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The Tonle Sap River Initiative
The Tonle Sap River Basin is important to around two million Cambodians. Their livelihoods depend on its rich natural resources. The seasonal flooding provides spawning grounds for fish in the flooded forests. During the rainy season, communities could fish and cultivate rice at the same time in the flooded areas.
With its diverse natural resources, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the government of Cambodia identified the Tonle Sap region as a biosphere region in 1997 and was designated by a Royal Decree in 2001.
ADB’s stake in the project is one-third (US$230 million) of the total cost (US$687 million). The plant is co-financed by the Thai Government (59% of total cost) and the Japan Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (now the Japan Bank for International Cooperation). Prior to this major loan, ADB has already extended grants to study alternatives in mitigating the deteriorating environment in the province of Samut Prakarn focusing on water quality. The result of such study was the recommendation of a central wastewater treatment plant that will be built on each side of the Chao Phraya River.
The Samut Prakarn Wastewater Management project is designed to serve as the hub of all wastes generated by industries, commercial and residential groups in the Samut Prakarn province. Aside from the central treatment plant on the east and west side of the province, the project entails the installation of collection and discharge pipelines that would serve as the conduit to the industries and the treatment plants. The treated waste would then be released into the Gulf of Thailand. Controversy erupted when construction began on a different site, away from the original sites identified in the studies. The residents of Klong Dan had no idea that their area would now be housing just one wastewater treatment plant until construction was in full swing. Project information was difficult to obtain, as both the ADB and the Thai Government’s Pollution Control Department (PCD) was tight-lipped on the issue. The concerned villagers had to go through various institutions just to understand the basics of the plant and its direct impact on their livelihood. Central to what the villagers came to know was the fact that the project in Klong Dan has neither environmental nor social assessment studies. Klong Dan was not part of the many option areas that were identified by the initial studies.
The wastewater plant is a big issue for the Klong Dan villagers as they largely depend on the fertility of the Gulf of Thailand and its tributaries. The Gulf is home to many shrimp, mussel, and fish farms. From information obtained outside the financing institutions, the plant doesn’t have the capacity to treat wastewater that is heavy on phosphorous, nitrogen, bacteria and heavy metals. The immediate impact would just be to contribute to the pollution of the gulf. Moreover, water where the project is situated exhibits a circular motion hence, these toxins will not be fully flushed out of the gulf. Releasing the treated water into the gulf would also reduce the salinity of the water that would drastically affect the mussel and fish farms. Apart from these effects, the adverse impacts of the project on the villagers’ health are also noted. On the other hand, the villagers were never consulte