Phnom Penh Should Have More Green Spaces: Experts 

Photo taken on Nov. 8, 2018 shows a view of central Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo: Xinhua

PHNOM PENH – More green areas and forest parks should be built in Phnom Penh to respond to heat waves, flooding, and air pollution, experts say, stressing the city should use its many vacant plots of land to make it happen.

Helena McLeod, deputy director general at the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), an inter-governmental organization established in 2012, calls for the creation of green spaces in Cambodia’s capital city and suggests it should lean towards a ‘sponge city’ approach to better face heat waves and flooding.

During her visit to Phnom Penh, from May 7 to 10, Helena saw several vacant plots of land that could be used to create more green spaces or forest parks around the city. The GGGI could support the city in presenting park development projects to funders, McLeod said on May 9.

“We are not a donor but we are good at getting money, with the capacity to write proposals for the projects. So, what we try to do is get the funding so that we can get the plans implemented. We would also create more green spaces in buildings,” she said. 

McLeod believes there are many vacant spaces across the city that people don’t use. “Phnom Penh can clean them up, make them look nice, and attach a fee so that people look after them.” 

The plan might come with a challenge as residents live in or nearby areas that have the potential to be turned into green spaces. But moving them would be “quite controversial,” the expert warns.

“Building green spaces does not necessarily mean moving people around. Phnom Penh can at least create a [small] space where people can sit under the trees, and then create a bigger green space where there are fewer residents,” she said, urging project developers to provide good quality alternative housing if they are to relocate people.

“The capital has a lot of vacant spaces in the close outskirts where we can create forest parks. If not in the center of the city – where space is scarce – that could be more in the proximity of the city,” she said.

“With this consideration, the people will gain something while the city will also gain something.”

The GGGI has been cooperating with the government, particularly with the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and international NGOs to implement green projects. They established the Blue Skies & Net Zero 2050 Campaign and promoted the use of sustainable energy in the garment sector.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID), sees that the number and the size of buildings in the capital keep increasing while green spaces are nearly absent from the urban landscape.

“Many studies have shown that there must be more trees to balance the unnatural atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide emitted by cars and motorbikes. Trees store carbon dioxide, so they reduce air pollution by removing the CO2 from the atmosphere,” the analyst said. 

“Besides, trees are good-looking green decorations along the roads within the city. That's why many developing and developed countries are planting trees along the roads. These also include some of ASEAN countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or Singapore,” he added. 

“Cambodia should consider planting trees in other places than the Royal Palace or Wat Phnom,” Chanroeun said.

Phnom Penh has the least number of green spaces compared to other ASEAN’s capitals, the expert added, urging authorities to create at least one green space or park in each of the city’s districts – if not communes.

“The available green spaces are far from many residents, so they have to travel using their vehicles to go to the park, while some people can only do exercises along the road, which is dangerous,” the analyst said.

“People exercise for their health but end up breathing polluted air, which is very unhealthy,” he said.

‘More green spaces for healthier physical and mental state’ 

Chanroeun believes that more green spaces will encourage more physical activity among citizens, who shall also make new friends for both exercising and chatting. This promotes both physical and mental health.

“Promoting public health might cost less than treating health issues that could have been avoided with more green spaces. Therefore, the government should consider investing more in projects that can help the citizens improve their health,” Chanroeun said. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, people got stressed because they had been in lockdown and quarantine. This shows that going out, doing physical activities, gathering in a social setting help their mental and physical health (mostly obesity and diabetes),” he added.

There are no reliable data on the number of parks or public areas in Phnom Penh. Except for Wat Phnom Park, most of them are large concrete esplanades with only a few trees.

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