Cambodia’s key infrastructure, once heavily damaged during years of conflict and further deteriorated by prolonged exposure to flooding have received a new lease of life.
Damaged bridges and country roads impacted rural livelihoods by hampering the mobility of villagers who had to depend on rickety bridges that could be swept away during heavy rains.
This dangerous situation had devastating consequences, with scores of people losing their lives.
To upgrade dangerous infrastructure, Cambodia requested the assistance of the Japanese government, which through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) provided funds to rehabilitate seven damaged bridges in Prey Veng and Kratie provinces.
Japan’s ODA is an international cooperation between governments and government-related organisations to contribute to the peace, security and development of the global community.
Japanese ODAs focus on three core areas – technical cooperation, financial cooperation and grant aid.
Japan began development projects in Cambodia in 1968, with numerous projects both large and small having been completed.
A project to rehabilitate roads and bridges that began in 2017 was completed last year, contributing immensely to the movement of people and the transportation of agricultural products in the provinces.
Bridging the gap
The chief engineer involved in the reconstruction of the two bridges spoke of how they are helping to improve lives.
“People had been waiting for improved transportation, and their lives are now getting better as a result.
“Houses are being built and businesses set up in areas around the bridges, and this will contribute to the economic development of the area, especially for the growth of the agricultural sector,” said Heng Vutha, 39.
A lifeline for rural people, these roads and bridges have become key parts of the Kingdom’s transport network.
Five of the seven bridges are connected to National Road 73 in the southern part of Kratie province in the northeast of Cambodia.
Some 160 trucks weighing more than 15 tonnes ply the route daily.
Ageing and having been regularly damaged by floods, the original bridges were in poor condition and faced the risk of collapse.
After reconstruction work, the Prek Rus Bridge in Kratie province is now safe for use.
Other bridges rehabiliated using the ODA funds were Peam Te Bridge, Prek Chhloung Bridge, Anlong Khle Bridge and Prek Sandan Bridge
The Ba Baong No1 Bridge and Ba Baong No2 Bridge on the east bank of the Mekong River in southern Prey Veng province form part of National Road 11, which helps connect Thbong Khmum and Kampong Cham towns with Phnom Penh.
Such roads play a vital role in transporting goods within the country and for export abroad.
Ba Baong commune chief Chao Non said the rebuilt bridges have brought peace of mind to residents.
“The bridges have been rebuilt using concrete and are very strong, so we need not worry about them collapsing anymore.
“Before that the bridges were made of steel, and originally they were made of wood. During rainy season, it was not possible to cross them.
“And when they were rebuilt, all mines and other unexploded ordnance left from the civil war were cleared, so we can now live without fear,” the 62-year-old said.
Other villagers explained how the reconstruction of the seven bridges has brought significant benefits to their lives.
The rebuilt bridges are helping reduce hazards caused by flooding, ease traffic congestion, enable the faster movement of people and goods across provinces, and contribute to socio-economic development in the surrounding areas.
“When it was just an old narrow steel bridge, there were traffic accidents on it, especially during rainy season. But we expect the new bridge to reduce the number of accidents,” said Sorn Vichet, 30, the principal of a local primary school.
Chrou Hoeun, 50, the principal of a nearby secondary school, said: “The quality of the bridge is so much better now. Students using the bridge to get to school can now travel safely.
A 32-year-old farmer from Ba Bong, Ly Sythea, said: “In the past, although we harvested a lot of rice, we could not transport it in volume using heavy trucks due to the problems with the bridge, but we can now transport it easily.”
Japanese ODAs have played a crucial role in the upgrading of infrastructure that will help in poverty reduction, the upliftment of rural economies and the development of social services in Prey Veng and Kratie provinces.
Such infrastructure needs to be protected by the local communities and other users as they are important to support sustainable economic development in the future.