Friday, January 9, 2015

Cambodian public-private partnership provides safe piped water in arsenic-affected community

By Bunly Meas

KANDAL, Cambodia, 09 January 2015 - In arsenic-affected Kampong Kong commune in Kandal province, Cambodia, it has taken many years to get the community to understand the risks of drinking contaminated well water and find safe alternatives. 

Spearheading these efforts for more than 10 years is 63-year-old Commune Chief, Teagn Heang. “It is invisible with no taste, colour or smell,” Heang said. “There is real evidence of death and sickness. People feel scared and stop using water from the affected wells.”

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/ Meas Bunly: Most pumping wells in the commune are arsenic-affected and authority marked them read to warn villagers not to use them.

Arsenic occurs naturally in ground water and can cause health problems ranging from skin abnormality to cancer if consumed in large quantities over a long period. Kampong Kong commune is in one of 318 arsenic-affected areas in six provinces of rural Cambodia. 

Heang says that over the years explaining the risks of drinking arsenic-affected water was easy but suggesting alternatives was a tough job. “Most of the commune’s 400 wells contain arsenic and the only other choice was a nearby river, which I think there are bacteria or parasites,” he said. 

Mrs. Vong Pheoul, a 53-year-old villager, admits she stopped drinking water from an arsenic-affected well after listening Commune Chief Heang but the substitute was little better. “Our family [would then] drink water directly from the river and we got diarrhoea sometimes; we know the water from there was not as good as from our pumping well, which we were told not to use anymore,” said Pheoul.

In 2011 UNICEF-supported research in the commune by the Ministry of Rural Development and its provincial department which revealed that more than 860 families had been exposed to arsenic.

Following discussions with the community, UNICEF, in partnership with the French NGO, GRET and the Provincial Department of the Ministry of Rural Development, with funding from the Japan Committee for UNICEF, supported the construction of a community piped water system to supply clean water to 2,000 families in Kampong Kong commune. The system pumps water from the river, and stores, treats, and distributes it to villagers through pipes across the commune. 

© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/ Angelique Reid: The community piped water system could supply clean water to 2,000 families and now 1,284 are connected.

To date, 1,284 families are connected to the system. The connection cost is US$30, but 301 households identified as poor receive subsidies and pay only between US$5 and US$15, depending on what they can afford. 

A private sector service provider, competitively selected to run the business, makes the household connections, maintains the system, monitors the water quality, and collects payment for metered water usage. A cubic metre of water costs US₵50 per month, and for the poorest families the first cubic metre each month is free.

Business woman Hak Sengtha, 29, said her goal is not just to make a profit but also to help people get healthy. “My family has been in this water business for many years; we witness people’s health deteriorating and we want to change. With this new system, it is happening,” said Ms. Sengtha.  

For UNICEF and partners, this entrepreneurial model benefits many people and is sustainable. By 2015, two similar systems will be built in nearby communes. 

Mrs. Vong Pheoul no longer drinks water from the river and neither does she think of going back to her arsenic-affected pumping well. Now, when she turns on the tap in her home there is safe water for all ten members of her family. As a low income household they also get their first cubic metre for free.

Commune Chief Teagn Heang no longer has a hard time suggesting alternatives to arsenic-affected wells and the dirty river. ”It is the community-piped water system; it is clean, safe and affordable!” he said. 

© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/ Angelique Reid: 63-year-old Commune Chief Teagn Heang found suggesting alternatives to arsenic water difficult, but until recently he knew what to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment