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Trash, medical incidents mount as Water Festival crowds grow

A woman is treated for heatstroke yesterday afternoon at a Water Festival medical tent on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay.
A woman is treated for heatstroke yesterday afternoon at a Water Festival medical tent on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay. Hong Menea

Trash, medical incidents mount as Water Festival crowds grow

After a somewhat muted opening day on Sunday, Phnom Penh officials yesterday said they believed Water Festival attendance had doubled during its second day, with authorities dealing with an increased number of festival-goers seeking medical care and public criticism of fast-accumulating litter.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada yesterday maintained that the number of spectators soared during the second day.

“During the first day, the number of people was between 600,000 to 700,000 people and during the second day it was between 1 million and 1.2 million,” he said.

Attendees yesterday did say that while crowds seemed to have grown since Sunday, they still fell well short of the massive throngs associated with years’ past.

But as the number of festival-goers increased, so did the number of people experiencing dizziness, minor injuries and dehydration. In one medical unit alone, more than 300 people had sought medical services as of yesterday afternoon, compared with 200 people on Sunday.

Meanwhile, city officials took to social media to complain about mounting rubbish piles, sparking an online debate over who was actually to blame. Phnom Penh’s Department of Public Works and Transport yesterday seemed to point the finger at the public, saying on its Facebook page that employees had worked from midnight until 6:15am yesterday morning to clean up all the trash left over from the first day of celebrations.

“After the first day of the Water Festival, they [workers] noticed that rubbish is still a problem caused by some people who just throw it everywhere,” part of the post reads. The post, which as of yesterday evening had been “liked” 5,300 times and shared more than 7,000 times, also spurred almost 600 comments from people.

While many commenters blamed a lack of education and “bad habits”, others maintained that not enough waste receptacles – the municipality deployed 1,020 – had been placed around the city.

Sam Piseth, director of the Department of Public Works, declined to comment on whether it was the public or festival planners to blame for the trash problem.

Va Sim Soriya, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said this is not the first time that people had complained about trash at Water Festivals, but maintained the city was responsible, not the ministry. He also declined to comment on whether the 1,020 trash bins were sufficient.

Meanwhile, Chanyada maintained waste management was better this year compared to previous years. “According to the report from the first day, 2,100 tonnes of waste were collected, and this is normal,” he said, declining to comment on the complaints.

Separately, the practice of rounding up “undesirables” continued this year. Sorn Sophal, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Department, said about 20 beggars had been rounded up during the first day of the festival and released with a warning to stay away from the festivities.

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