The half-kilometer tower


The tower is at the very top of the table. Photo from Phnom Penh Post.

Today the first sod will be turned for the construction of a half-kilometer  tall skyscraper in central Phnom Penh. That’s  113 floors of luxury, consisting a 6-star hotel, apartments, high-standard office spaces, and a mall. All going well completion will be in 2019, at a cost of $1 billion. All this despite the fact that relevant ministry hasn’t yet received an application request, let alone granted permission.


Let us assume that it gets built. One thing on my mind is what happens if there’s a fire? Back in 1999 the Post addressed this question:

Some simple rules dramatically increase survival chances. The first: don’t have a fire between 11am and 1pm or 5pm and 7pm because the firefighters are not available during meal breaks, says their chief.

The second: have substantial amounts of cash to hand out because the firefighters don’t put out fires unless paid, say past victims.

And finally: try to live near Wat Phnom or the Ministry of Interior because they are the only two places where fire engines have 24- hour access to water.


Diamond Island (Koh Pich) fire station.

That, of course, is almost 20 years ago; the new tower will be just over the bridge from Diamond Island, which has 24-hour access to everything and the most modern firefighting equipment in the kingdom. Still, I doubt that even the best-equipped fire trucks in the world have ladders long enough for this. How do mega-towers handle rescue?

Of course, the tower will have all the latest in safety measures – smoke detectors, sprinklers, all that. I have no doubt it will – prestige developments take these things seriously. How does Phnom Penh in general measure up on that front? The Post addressed this much more recently, in 2013:

… fire safety is effectively up to the discretion of property owners … no basic fire safety code exists in practice … [no] policy or … regulations for the safety systems of skyscrapers … 10-storey Basak Tower luxury apartment building on Sothearos Boulevard [has] fire extinguishers [n]o smoke detectors [has] sprinklers on the corridors … [c]orruption … dodgy dealing prevents effective enforcement … many building owners put lives at risk by cutting fire safety costs….

There are plenty of high-rises in town already. “Before, there were never high buildings. Now there are a lot. When there is a fire [in a high building], there will be a big problem.” Read Bennett Murray’s article in the sources, it’s very illuminating.


People use extinguishers to put out fires, Koh Pich, National Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Day, 22 Feb. 2016 (photo: Phnom Penh Post).


• Siv Meng, Government eager to kick-start mammoth tower development, Phnom Penh Post, 13 March 2016.

• Samreth Sopha, Firefighters fiddle as Phnom Penh burns, Phnom Penh Post, 5 March 1999.

• Bennett Murray, Fire protection, a case for alarm?, Phnom Penh Post, 15 March 2013.