This June and July, Impact Hub will be focusing on “Smarter Cities” where we will explore the ways we can have a positive impact on the place we live. To get us started in thinking about the future of Cambodia’s cities, we caught up with our own members to share with us the biggest challenges facing our urban spaces.

Last year, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicted Cambodia’s population to grow by 22% to almost 19 million in 2030. With mass rural to urban migration in Phnom Penh, pressure to improve urban infrastructure while accommodating more and more residents is on the rise. Hub Fellow Kongny Hav (founder of My Dream Home – a social enterprise developing affordable eco-friendly bricks) sees the demand for affordable housing as a pressing matter for Phnom Penh.

“I observe that the market demand for houses for the middle class is lower than the supply, but a lot of companies supply expensive houses where there is no need. At the moment there are no companies providing affordable housing– this is a big problem when Cambodia has one of the world’s highest urbanisation growth rates.”

Kongngy further explains that based on the GDP per capita, low income groups such as the ones living in the garment worker areas will not ever be able to afford their own houses. Furthermore, cities in Cambodia face the issue surrounding poor quality housing structures that many low income residents are forced to live in.  

“We don’t have good construction materials that are affordable and we don’t have MFI who provide good regulations. Regulations that we have here are often cheated and shortcuts are taken with the quality of materials in order to construct houses cheaper.”  

The influx of rural migrants coming to Phnom Penh also raises concerns over the strain on Cambodia’s energy sector. According to Hub Member Mayte De Vries, an energy specialist working in Cambodia, Phnom Penh could face some serious challenges if more sustainable practices and policies are not implemented.

“There isn’t a shortage in Phnom Penh yet, but if you look at the increasing rate of people using more and more electricity, Cambodia isn’t producing enough. Cambodia is also importing from Laos, Vietnam and Thailand which makes electricity prices more expensive here compared to our neighboring countries.”

With the country’s close proximity to the equator, Cambodia ranks in the top 1% of countries with the highest solar power supply potential. However, even with this opportunity to power Cambodia’s cities through solar energy, the industry is still facing many difficulties in implementing its renewable systems. At present, Cambodia does not have a net metering policy that would allow consumers using solar to use their own electricity when they want instead of when it is generated. Furthermore, while people are still buying solar power technology there is also the issue of quality and affordability.

“There are cheap products on the market that are poor quality. When they end up buying the cheapest, they find that after 2 months it stops working and they tend to turn away from solar completely. Solar as a renewable is a long term investment, and if people can’t afford it they end up sticking with the old fashioned non-renewables.”

Another threat Phnom Penh is facing are the serious environmental and health hazards surrounding the growing amount of solid waste. At present, Phnom Penh uses just one private waste management firm (CINTRI) to collect waste, and as Impact Hub Member and project manager of the Plastic Free July Charlotte Mukensturm explains, it is not enough.

“Today, all the waste that is collected by CINTRI is not being separated. Only the scavengers are doing this because they are making money from cans, paper, cardboard and plastic bottles. Battambang is the only city in Cambodia that has a composting site, so unfortunately there is no collection of organic waste (which represents 60-70% of the waste being produced) anywhere else to date.”

One of the biggest goals of Plastic Free July is to change our behaviour when it comes to consumption of non-biodegradable products through education. With the average urban person using more than 2,000 plastic bags per year (according to 17 Triggers’ 2015 survey), Charlotte explains that there is a lack of awareness of the amount that we are consuming.

“Cambodian’s don’t really know about how bad the situation is and can’t really see how much they are using as it’s become a habit. They know that it is a problem but not in a lot of detail. But I am very optimistic about Cambodia’s future as all the students and people I have met really want to change and want a better life, good health and a cleaner environment.”

Knowing some of biggest challenges facing cities like Phnom Penh, questions of how we can develop a sustainable future looms. What does the future of Phnom Penh look like? What steps are being taken to build more sustainable options for Cambodia? How can we have a more positive impact on the city we live in?
Join us for our June and July events where we will be having a variety of Hubbers and Guest Speakers presenting more of the challenges facing Cambodia’s cities and the ways in which they are taking action.

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