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Blackouts in Cambodia Spark Online Demands for Explanation

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, March 28 2013

Reports of local blackouts in Phnom Penh on the Urban Voice website. [Screengrab]

As the dry winter season interferes with hydroelectric power production in Cambodia, the capital city of Phnom Penh has been facing rolling, unpredictable blackouts.   Now, an urban mapping platform has taken up a campaign to understand when and where in the city the outages are happening, and to make the government answerable to residents who are living in the dark. 

Though they occur with regularity in neighborhoods throughout the city, these power outages usually come unannounced.  Most frequently, they affect economically disadvantaged areas of the city – the political district and neighborhoods frequented by tourists are largely unaffected. Urban Voice, an organization that was also involved in efforts to map to how Internet café closures in downtown Phnom Penh would hinder online access for thousands of citizens, has been encouraging residents to report power cuts.  These reports are then mapped by Urban Voice, providing a geospatial portrait of disadvantage in the city.

Cambodia’s electrical authority is notorious for its lack of transparency regarding the power outages, and for failing to explain how it decides which neighborhoods get to keep the lights on.  The agency asked citizens for their “tolerance” during a similar spate of blackouts last year.  Urban Voice is requesting that the government release a schedule or advance warning of blackouts to the citizens who will be affected, giving them the time to prepare. 

As a techPresident correspondent reported this week, citizen media is on the rise in Cambodia, even as the government attempts to clamp down on online discourse. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.