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Cambodia: Lessons from the Water Festival stampede

During this time of the year in previous years, Cambodians were sharing holiday stories and how they happily participated in the Water Festival celebrations. But not today. Cambodians are still mourning the death of 347 people in the stampede tragedy which happened last week at Koh Pich Bridge.

Mainstream media channels and even online social network tools have been used to send news updates, to call for support, and to express condolence to families of the victims. Top government officials, civil society organizations, youth networks and individuals joined together and launched numerous initiatives to help those who are recovering in the hospitals and to support the victims’ family members.

While there were controversial issues like how government should be accountable for its failure to protect and ensure the people's safety, a number of individuals consider the tragedy as an opportunity to learn rather than focus on blame finding.

A Cambodian facebook user, Sreng Sopheap, from Ratanakiri, northeastern part of Cambodia says:

It is not to look for someone to blame but to find ways to heal the internal broken heart. A lesson to be learnt, but should not be blamed…

Another facebooker, Samsokrith Chhaly, identified as an active volunteer member of the organizing committee of the 2010 Barcamp Phnom Penh, urges the public to think of those who died during the Water Festival as heroes:

Let's not think of them as “unfortunate victims”… but think of them as “accidental heroes.” Their death give us priceless lesson…

This incident should be an adequate reason for the government to establish an effective risk management system in the country. A number of online users raised good suggestions.

Sophary Noy, a human rights worker, lists her recommendations through her facebook:

With death toll of innocent ppl @KohPich during dis festival, de gov't shld provide more protective arrangements such as install 1st aid booth in every 200-300m distance & reserve clear line 4 ambulance route. Any death is costly & a waste 4 de nation. With adaptation & correction, we can avoid unnecessary death by de next 5yrs. Bit by bit we can change de culture of blaming & re-activate our culture of responsibility

Similarly, Norbert Klein, founder of The Mirror, also offered some suggestions and reminders to the government on disaster management:

Sad for what happened with 339 persons accounted to be dead (and probably more to be added), and concern whether this will lead to sharp analysis of the reasons – and that it may lead to fundamental changes on how to plan safety. Safety for big crowds, but also for the many new high rise buildings going up, where the fire-fighting forces cannot reach with present equipment much higher than their ladders.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, tourism expert Ouk Vanna cited the lack of professionalism in public event management and the lack of risk management system in Cambodia.

[…] ការ​រៀប​គម្រោង​មេ ដើម្បី​ការពារ​ហានិភ័យ​ឲ្យ​បាន​ខ្ពស់​បំផុត គួរ​អនុលោម​​តាម​និយាម​អន្តជាតិ ដូចជា​សិក្សា​ភាព​ហានិភ័យ​លើ​ទីតាំង​ឲ្យ​បាន​សុក្រឹត រៀបចំ​កម្លាំង​ការពារ​សង្គ្រោះ​ឲ្យ​សមាមាត្រ​ទៅ​នឹង​ចំនួន​មនុស្ស​ដើរ​ កម្សាន្ត ឬ​ចំនួន​អ្នក​ទេសចរ ហ្វឹកហ្វឺន​ជំនាញ​បច្ចេកទេស​ដល់​កម្លាំង​សន្តិសុខ​លើ​ផ្នែក​នីមួយៗ និង​រៀបចំ​ក្រុម​បម្រុង​ដើម្បី​បង្ការ និង​សង្គ្រោះ​ពេល​មាន​ហានិភ័យ​ដែល​អាច​កើត​ឡើង​ជាយថាហេតុ​នៅ​នឹង​កន្លែង រៀប​ចំ​ស្លាក​សញ្ញា​បង្ហាញ​ផ្លូវ​ថ្មើរ​ជើង ត្រួត​ពិនិត្យ​ចរន្ត​មនុស្ស​ជា​ប្រចាំ​តាំង​ពី​ដើម​ដល់​ចប់​កម្មវិធី។[…]

[…] A master plan for risk management should be complied to international standards that include the detail study on the risk at the location where event will be organized; group preparation to save public should be compatible to the number of people or tourists; skill training and advanced preparation for security guards and protection groups when risk may occur in such public events; gate-way logo placement so that public can be aware where to go, and closely track the movement of the people from the beginning to the end of the event[…]

Though the government, with support from mainstream media, was quick to act and help the victims and their family members by shouldering the cost of hospitalization, transportation of dead bodies, and mourning ceremony, there are still reports of extortion from public officials who are assisting the victims. There is also a visible lack of health infrastructure to accommodate such huge inflow of victims at the same time. Obviously, there are still questions about government responsibility, fund management to directly benefit the victims, and disaster management reforms.

1 comment

  • I feel shocked when I heard this tragic incident that we never met after the topple of Khmer Rouge. That is the lesson learnt for Cambodia’s government. I thought that the occurrence of the incident was because that the security forces during the festival was careless. If they really took care of happy goers, not so much people died and got injured like that. At least all the family member of victims are taken care from the government.

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