Climate change contributes to the problem of water scarcity and villagers often have no choice but to drink unsafe water. That, however, is set to change in a commune in Kampot province with the help of a EU-funded women’s project, writes Chea Vannak.
The quality of water in Cambodia is a national problem, with UNICEF reporting in 2014 that 6.3 million out of 14.9 million Cambodians, nearly half of the population, lacked access to clean drinking water.
Unclean water may contain pathogens that cause waterborne illness like diarrhoea, which is the second leading cause of death for children under five years of age. To make matters worse, extreme weather as a result of climate change is likely to contribute to problems of water scarcity.
In response to these dire problems, a group of women in Banteay Meas Kert commune in Kampot province’s Banteay Meas district, with funding from the European Union, have come together to set up a water treatment plant that enables the safe reuse of water, in times of water scarcity, to protect public health.
The group comprising nine women work in shifts through the day to run the Women’s Community Drinking Water Production Station which has been in operation for about a year. This drinking water production station is part of a $95,000 EU project with a two-year period of implementation that benefits 16 villages in four communes in Kampot and Kep provinces, according to Pai Sokoma, a technical adviser at the Disaster Management Committee.
“We decided to choose Banteay Meas Kert commune because we found that it is the most affected area [by climate change] and there weren’t any NGOs offering assistance to the villagers here,” Mr Sokoma said.
Ouch Sarom, the leader of the women’s group, said her team worked hard to produce safe drinking water because there was an acute shortage of it in the commune.
“We don’t have enough clean water to use and if the villagers have to buy bottled water from the shops, it becomes very expensive,” Ms Sarom said.
Through a pump and piped water system, river water is collected, stored in a tank, poured into filters – sand filter, carbon filter, micro filter – and finally disinfected using a UV lamp. This process removes all bacteria to produce clean water with consistent quality.
The water is then poured into 20-litre bottles and ready for consumption.
“Villagers can purchase the bottles on site for 1,500 riel ($0.37), which is much cheaper than the 4,000 riel ($1) they have to pay in the shops,” Ms Sarom said.
The Women’s Community Drinking Water Production Station stocks about 200, 20-litre bottles of water, at a single time to meet the needs of villagers.
“It is very important to them to use clean water from the station. Most importantly, it is safe and we also help the villagers to save money for other needs,” Ms Sarom said.
Sun Eap, said the water from the treatment plant run by Ms Sarom’s group helped keep her children free from disease.
“Previously they used to get sick from diarrhoea. But now they’re much healthier and fall sick less often,” she said.
“I’ll keep buying water from Ms Sarom’s group because it is cheap and also good for my children.
“Previously I could not afford to buy bottled water from the corner store, so I boiled pond water for drinking and also used it for cooking and washing. It was very bad for my children.”
George Edgar, ambassador of the European Union to Cambodia, said if there is a prolonged dry season, access to safe drinking water becomes a serious issue.
“And with the recent changing of climatic patterns, the likelihood and severity of extended dry periods is increasing,” he added.
“This project run by women benefits villagers in the commune and provides them with quality, safe and affordable water for use in their daily lives.”
Mr Sokoma, the technical adviser at the Disaster Management Committee, said the EU-funded project at Banteay Meas Kert commune was important because it also helped raise awareness of climate change among villagers.