Moving Towards Sustainable & Resilient Cities in Cambodia

Moving Towards Sustainable & Resilient Cities in Cambodia

13. 3. 2018

In late 2017, People in Need organised the third annual City for All! Conference in Phnom Penh to provide a platform for discussion on sustainable and resilient urban development in Cambodia. Over 30 speakers from across Asia gave presentations as part of four thematic sessions – Resilient City, Inclusive City, Clean City and Future City.

Cambodia’s cities are some of the most rapidly growing urban centres in South East Asia; between 2000 and 2010 the population of the country’s capital grew at 4.4% a year from 920,000 to 1.4 million people. Cambodia is also one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and it is the urban poor who tend to inhabit areas most at risk of hazards. Among the various hazards faced by urban populations are floods, landslides, storm damage and fires, which spread easily amongst tightly built houses. Every year, the wet season results in flooding of lowland areas, where the poorest typically reside. This is further compounded by periodic river flooding. Floodwaters contaminated with sewage can remain for up to 8 months of the year, triggering waterborne disease outbreaks. In the future, climate change is expected to exacerbate flooding. The combined potential impact of climate change and rapid, unplanned urbanisation mean Cambodia’s urban poor are at increased vulnerability. At the City for All! Conference, People in Need, guests and speakers addressed these issues, presenting ideas and research on how to ensure Cambodian cities are better planned for urban resilience and how they can learn to survive, adapt and grow in the face of regular shocks and stresses. Conference partner the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) introduced the Cambodia Green Urban Development Program (GUDP), an initiative designed to: assist the development of green city projects across Cambodia; support city planning through the diffusion of green growth concepts and instruments; and generate bankable projects that result in climate change resilience and improved livelihoods for Cambodia’s urban poor.

Promoting the development of sustainable, resilient cities

Cambodia has an urban spatial expansion rate of 4.3% a year on average, the second fastest in East Asia after Lao PDR. Cambodia also has one of the smallest but fastest-growing urban populations, growing at 4.4% a year from 920,000 to 1.4 million people between 2000 and 2010. Today, Cambodia’s urban population accounts for almost 30% of the total population, while the urban sector accounts for around half of Cambodia’s Gross National Income (GNI). Urban expansion presents both opportunities and challenges. Urban growth creates economic opportunities, innovation and new jobs; however, unstructured urbanisation can create significant socio-economic and environmental challenges, including urban sprawl, insufficient provision of basic services and infrastructures such as housing, transport, energy, water supply and sanitation, as well as increased congestion, pollution, unemployment and inequality.

Without urban planning interventions, Cambodia will continue to experience widening spatial and economic disparities within its cities. Many cities have already experienced the stress of urban growth, which is causing serious economic, social and environmental challenges.

Recognising the need for the sustainable development of cities in Cambodia, the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) launched the Cambodia Green Urban Development Program (GUDP) in 2015 to help Cambodian cities address these urban challenges and move towards supporting sustainable and resilient cities.

Under GUDP, a Green City Strategic Planning Methodology was developed and endorsed by the government in 2016. The methodology is a step-by-step guide for Cambodia’s policy-makers to help transform Cambodia’s cities by achieving greater sustainability. Using the methodology, a Green City Strategic Plan was developed for the capital city of Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh Green City Strategic Plan 2017-2026 analyses green growth challenges and opportunities in the capital and provides strategies for achieving an overarching green city vision and goals. It also includes a list of 48 prioritised green investment projects in eight key urban sectors, all of which are linked to the existing strategies and master plans for Phnom Penh.

Since 2017, GGGI has been working with NCSD and the Ministry of the Interior to expand its green city work to other cities in Cambodia. Seven cities – Sihanoukville, Kep, Kampong Cham, Soung, Bavet, Siem Reap and Battambang – were selected as case studies for the development of the Sustainable City Strategic Plan 2018- 2030 and a list of priority investment pipelines. 

Current urbanisation is concentrated in and around Phnom Penh, which is the centre for economic growth and holds approximately 50% of all jobs in industry and manufacturing. However, Cambodia needs to adopt environmentally sustainable and economically attractive urbanisation across the whole country in order to avoid concentrating urban growth in Phnom Penh, reduce the stress of urban growth, and promote a sustainable urban network in potential secondary and tertiary cities. The Sustainable City Strategic Plan 2018-2030 has been developed to serve this purpose by guiding city government and development stakeholders in city planning and management in order to ensure sustainable local development, while balancing economic growth with social and environmental development. The strategic plan aims to promote the green growth of strategically important secondary and tertiary cities in Cambodia. The green development of these cities will result in more balanced and sustainable urbanisation in Cambodia.

Over the past three years, GGGI’s work in Cambodia has brought “green urbanisation” to the centre of the government’s attention. GGGI has contributed to increasing understanding and capacity with regard to green growth concepts at both national and sub-national levels. GGGI’s green growth recommendations have been mainstreamed into Cambodia’s key national policies, including the drafting of the Natural Resource and Environment Code and the National Environment Strategic Action Plans. Once adopted, the Environment Code will require the capital city and each secondary city to complete a Sustainable City Strategic Plan. GGGI is honoured to be recognised by the Cambodian Minister of Environment for pioneering the work of sustainable city development in the Kingdom.

In the coming years, GGGI will continue its close collaboration with the government and development partners to mobilise resources to translate its policy recommendations into real implementation. GGGI will also continue to provide advisory support to the National Council for Sustainable Development, in particular, its inter-ministerial Technical Working Group on Sustainable Cities, to promote sustainable urbanisation in Cambodia.

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Author: Pheakdey Heng, Ph.D, Global Green Growth Institute