Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Providing safe water and livelihoods in Cambodia

By Anne-Sophie Galli

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
Song Vannara found a stable daily job: He distributes tanks with clean water to his community.
KANDAL, Cambodia, July 2014 –When Song Vannara was 23 years old, he stopped believing in his future. After repeating many grades at secondary school, he eventually dropped out. His classmates were sometimes ten years younger than him. “I always had to work in sugar cane fields to support my family”, Song Vannara says. “So, I never had time to study.” He thought that, just like his parents and three siblings, he would be a labourer for the rest of his life, struggling to survive on $5 a day.

That was two years ago. Now, Song Vannara feels confident again. He has secured his first stable job in a social entrepreneur business selling bottled drinking water to his community. He is working with the NGO Tuek Saat 1001 which is supported by Fountain 1001 and UNICEF, with funding from the AEON 1% Club through the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

Tuek Saat 1001 has supported interested communes to set up safe water businesses in four Cambodian provinces where the groundwater is affected by arsenic: Kandal, Prey Veng, Kampong Cham and Kampong Speu.

Arsenic occurs naturally in ground water in many parts of Cambodia, affecting 2.25 million people. It is an invisible poison with no taste, colour or smell. If consumed in large quantities and over the course of many years, it can cause irreversible health problems such as skin lesions, changes in skin pigmentation and cancer of the skin, lungs, kidneys and bladder. This can lead to amputations or death.

Since the early 2000s, the Cambodian Government with support from UNICEF have conducted blanket testing water wells around the country to map arsenic concentration. If the amount of arsenic exceeds a critical level, the Cambodian Provincial Department of Rural Development paints these wells red, which indicates that the water is only safe for use in cleaning, but not for drinking and cooking. The Provincial Department of Rural Development with support from UNICEF also educates people about the consequences of drinking arsenic and encourages them to turn to use alternative safe water sources – such as boiling water, to kill bacteria, from a river, pond, or rainwater harvesting tank, or buying safe bottled water.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
Song Vannara and his colleague load their truck twice a day to deliver water to their community.
Tuek Saat 1001 supports bottled water start-ups because they give young people like Song Vannara from underprivileged families the chance to earn a living. Two or three young full time staff can operate a water cleaning facility and distribute and maintain water tanks.

So far, Tuek Saat 1001 has supported 60 start-ups which have created over 150 jobs. The staff earn up to $150 a month, made up of a basic salary of $70 plus as a bonus for every tank they sell to keep them motivated. This wage allows them to remove their families’ financial worries. “I’m the one who earns most in my family”, says Song Vannara. “They are so proud of me“.

Tuek Saat 1001 supervises the water bottling start-ups for two years before handing over the entire management to the seven-member commune council. “We want council members to take responsibility because this motivates them to promote clean water to as many people as possible”, says UNICEF water, sanitation and hygiene officer, Chaing Chanthea.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
In her free time, water promoter Sea Siv Nang explains children why it is important to drink clean water.

As a member of the Tuek Vill commune council, S’ang district, in Kandal province, 38 year old Sea Siv Nang is responsible for the finances of the water bottling start-up and promotes the facility in her community: “Buying our water is the cheapest option for the people here”, she says. Paying for gasoline to bring water from the river by motorbike and for medicine when people fall ill after drinking unboiled or arsenic water is more expensive than paying about 30 cents for a 20 litre bottle – the price set by Tuek Saat 1001. “Besides, our water is most convenient because it doesn’t need to be boiled”, says Sea Siv Nang. This argument convinces most. No arsenic or bacteria, no disease. Other than the young staff members who run the water facilities, commune council members do not get paid for their role in promoting the use of bottled but each receives four water bottles per month. Sea Siv Nang says working on the project brings its own reward, “Making my neighbours healthy makes me happy”.

To ensure that the commune council is committed to running a good business, Tuek Saat 1001 asks for an initial contribution of US$600 to buy a water treatment facility while UNICEF and Fountain 1001 cover the majority of the set-up costs. After the two year supervision period, Tuek Saat 1001 monitors the water quality twice a year, provides the businesses with spare parts for any repairs to the water treatment facility and provides advice to commune council members in response to any difficulties.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
The students from Samdech Krom Preah Primary School bring empty plastic bottles to school to drink water from the water dispenser.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
Since Sok Srey Nang (first on the left) and her friends have water dispenser in their classroom, they are sick less often.
To encourage the practice of drinking clean water, UNICEF through Tuek Saat 1001 pays the businesses to provide free drinking water to 27 (and soon more) primary schools in arsenic-affected areas. School director Yin Lay Ngeab says that fewer children are sick as a result and that they concentrate better at school. UNICEF also supports schools to teach children about arsenic and the importance of clean water: vital information that they also take home. 13 year old Sok Srey Nang explained that his grandmother always said her skin felt itchy. “In school I learnt that this happened because my family drank arsenic water”, he says. After he told his family, they started buying water bottles. 12 year old Pol Sok Chean says that when he used to drink unboiled water he was regularly unwell. “Since I drink clean water at school I haven’t been sick and my grades got better”, he says with a smile. Two years after the start of the water business project in 2012, 17,536 households and over 80,000 people in arsenic-affected areas are drinking safe bottled water. It is a business model that provides livelihoods for young people and less diarrhoea, less illness and a healthier life for many.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
 “Since I drink clean water at school, I haven’t been sick and my grades got better”,
says Pol Sok Chean.

No comments:

Post a Comment