Siem Reap, a northern city in Cambodia, is home to the world’s largest religious complex and major hub of tourism, Angkor Wat. But an ever-growing pile of garbage is also making a home in the city. Daily, 30 tonnes of garbage is cleaned up from the site of Angkor Wat alone.

As tourism increases, the ancient relic and city are feeling the pressures between welcoming tourists and imposing stricter regulations to protect the heritage areas and environment. The Cambodian government have already imposed a fee for the use of plastic bags in the country, but more needs to be done to reduce the stockpiling of garbage.

Siem Reap Mayor So Platong talks to GovInsider about how the city is cleaning up and collecting data, to ensure conservation of its sacred sites while still promoting tourism.

Integrating information

As a major hub for tourism, Siem Reap’s local government plans both for residents and tourists alike. Currently, the Mayor’s office is looking into collecting data on tourist experiences from all over the city, he says. The Mayor hopes that this data collection can later be integrated on a large scale to help tourists and local residents access infrastructure and services.

“We need the data not only to provide information to them, but also for improving the infrastructure in the city for the tourists to come to this place, to this temple,” notes the Mayor. While the data is being collected, officials will discuss exactly how the information should be made public, whether it be in the form of a mobile app or website.

Linking all connected data will not only help identify infrastructure that needs to be improved, but also help various government departments to run more efficiently, the Mayor points out. Ultimately, the goal is to provide information to the public in a transparent manner, he adds. Making the compiled information public will be the first step to building a smart city, he notes.

At the moment, information on various policies and campaigns are provided on a regular basis to schools, pagodas and the private sector. The city wants to reach out to local residents and tourists to explain the benefits of smart initiatives to the city as a whole. “We still need to educate because it’s very important for us as Cambodia that we need to be informed. It depends on all sectors to be involved in this process,” the Mayor notes.

Collecting garbage

In Siem Reap, garbage collection is not guaranteed. Residents have to individually subscribe for garbage collecting services and the garbage collection company is left to collect garbage in parts across the city where most simply dump garbage illegally. This is soon to change: for the first time, the local government is setting up a schedule to collect garbage across the city, the Mayor says.

The schedule will also include remote areas where garbage collectors do not usually venture, the Mayor explains. At the start of this year, the local government also began enforcing a fine of 10,000 riel (US$2.47) to anyone caught throwing trash in the streets or burning garbage. “We will also enforce the regulation to stop the people from polluting the riverside,” the Mayor adds.

The Mayor’s office have also engaged in a public education programme to ask both the community and the private sector to control garbage disposals. Earlier this year, the city also banned cars from entering a popular street in evenings to reduce pollution and encourage pedestrian access in the city.

Improving water supply

Currently Siem Reap’s water supply is mostly sourced from Siem Reap river, but the province has a deficit of about 300 million cubic metres of water per year.

“We will expand the water supply for the whole city to provide clean water to the tourists and the local people,” the Mayor says. Usually the water is channeled from the mountains to the city where it collects in the Siem Reap basin, but more channels are being planned to source for water from elsewhere outside of the city.

In rural areas, a watergate is being built to cater to agricultural needs. The watergates help hold water and irrigate fields during the dry season. Last week, flooding devastated neighbouring Laos and also impacted Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh as a dam on the Mekong river failed; combined with a drainage system, the watergate also doubles as flood barriers.

Over the last two decades, Siem Reap has made a spectacular leap from a quiet village to a bustling international tourism hub. To strike a fine balance between development and conservation, the city must continue to adapt through digital technologies and citizen engagement.

Image by Emilio LabradorCC BY 2.0