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Lessons from the approval of second Tonle Sap Basin project 

March 2019

Additional resources and frequent communication are some of the small wins from the early days of the second Tonle Sap Basin project, according to an After-Action Review (AAR) report of the project.  

The Second Urban Environmental Management in the Tonle Sap Basin Project in Cambodia is an expansion of the ongoing Integrated Urban Environmental Management in the Tonle Sap Basin Project, a $47 million investment that supports flood protection, wastewater management, and solid waste management in two provincial cities near the lake, Kampong Chhnang and Pursat. This second project, approved in August 2018, is an $89 million investment focused on three additional cities: Battambang in Battambang Province, Serei Saophoan in Banteay Meanchey Province, and Stueng Saen in Kampong Thom Province.  

The loan took effect in December 2018, and so the project is still in its initial stages of implementation. However, as part of improving project operations, the Southeast Asia Department (SERD), which carries this project, has conducted an AAR in October, just over one month after its Board approval.  

What is the project all about? 

The heart of the investment is the Tonle Sap Basin, which connects to the Mekong River and is home to about a third of the country’s population. It is also the source of livelihood for nearly half of the population. While Cambodia is still largely rural, it is rapidly urbanizing, both in terms of urban population growth rate and rampant rural–urban migration. This has put pressure on the infrastructure and urban services of the cities surrounding the basin. Battambang, Serei Saophoan, and Stueng Saen have limited access to piped water supply, and even less access to sewerage. As for solid waste collection, less than 25% of the population in these three cities is covered.  

Because of this, the second Tonle Sap Basin project will provide 

Battambang with a new wastewater treatment plan with a capacity of 4,800 cubic meters (m3) per day, 87 kilometers (km) of new sewers, and 350,000 m3 of landfill. For Serei Saophoan, it will finance a wastewater treatment plant with a 2,500-m3/day capacity, 78 km of sewers and 8.5 km of drainage network, and a 130,000 m3-landfill. For Stueng Saen, the project will finance a wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 2,300 m3/day, 39 km of sewers, 17 km of drainage network, and a 48,000 m3-landfill. These will be built with disaster and climate risk considerations, and will be supplemented with interventions to strengthen institutions, as well as assistance on developing urban master plans and strategies. The project will see completion by end of June 2024.  

What worked so far? 

According to the AAR report, there are five lessons to be learned from the project: 

Importance of resources for project preparation. “The Project Readiness Improvement Trust Fund (PRIF) was transformational for the project. The additional resources will contribute to better and faster implementation. ADB can consider expanding this financing to other operations departments.” 

Based on the report, the availability of grant resources from the PRIF was one of the items that contributed to the project’s preparation, as it funded the detailed engineering designs (DED) and bidding documents for 40% of the overall financing as part of the project preparatory technical assistance (PPTA). The bidding documents will be issued nine to 12 months earlier than expected, which the government valued.   

More time for project preparation. In addition to having resources that help advance the DED, it was also emphasized that “sector divisions should allow enough time for project preparation, particularly if the country does not have strong investment plans for the project to build on.”  

In this instance, it helped that the project team had frequent communication and coordination. Frequent informal meetings and conversations over Skype or Whatsapp enabled quick decision making and problem solving, making the project move forward easily and efficiently.


Consolidate project preparation under one consultant team. “Project teams can consider using the same consulting team for the full project preparation process, from the feasibility study to the preparation of DED and bidding documents. This allows for a single point of accountability.” 


This recommendation was a result of having two preparation teams for two phases of the project preparation. First, there was a prefeasibility study done by the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA). Second, there was a feasibility study and partial DED under the PPTA. “The two teams had different technical views of the design [and], in hindsight, it would have been better to have one consultant engaged earlier, and over a longer period.”   

Streamline required project documents. “The Strategy, Policy, and Review Department (SPD) and the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department (SDCC) should consider simplifying project documentation by cross-referencing documents rather than requiring repetition. There should be a conscious effort to make documents lean, focused, and easily understandable by the client.”  


There were a lot of overlapping requirements during loan processing, which not only took time but also had the potential for more error, particularly when specific sections had to be updated, said the project team. Voluminous documents, they added, delay the approval process and bury key points for implementation.  


Policy driven resolution to land acquisition and resettlement issues. “ADB, through the Cambodia Resident Mission, should ensure more extensive engagement with the [country’s General Department of Resettlement] to create a common and consistent understanding to address commonly encountered land acquisition and resettlement issues. SDCC, SERD sector divisions, and safeguards specialists should be involved in policy-driven institutional-level discussions to ensure that the standard approach is adopted across the portfolio.” 


This will help avoid project delays, but more importantly, this could avert any disputes or harming locals’ way of life.     

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Alexander Nash 
Urban Development Specialist 
Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division 

*For more details on the AAR report or the project, please email the contact noted above (right-hand side).  

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