Saturday, March 7, 2015

Meet the Cambodian entrepreneur delivering clean drinking water to her community

By Jemma Somervail

KAMPONG CHAM, Cambodia – 07 March, 2015 - Ly Nori is at work in the community drinking water treatment system. Crouched over used water tanks, she scrubs them with soap and bleach so that they can be re-filled with safe, clean, filtered water for delivery to customers within Vihear Thom commune in Kampong Cham province, about 138 kilometres north-east of the capital Phnom Penh. The 29-year-old has been running the system since it was installed six months ago by the local NGO, Teuk Saat 1001, UNICEF, and support from Japan AEON with Ms Ai Kawashima. Within the 11 communes in which Teuk Saat 1001 has installed community drinking water treatment systems Mrs Nori is the only female manager.

Ly Nori cleans the used water tank with soap. This is the first step in cleaning the bottle, after this is it disinfected with chlorine, then rinsed out with fresh water.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail

Mrs Nori, who manages two staff members, says her current work is a welcome change from her former job on a construction site in Thailand, where, as a migrant, she was away from her family and six-year-old son for long periods of time. “I like this job because it is close to my home and it is not physically difficult, I am not lifting heavy things,” she said.

It is also an opportunity for her to develop skills as an entrepreneur and manager. Mrs Nori supervises the entire process at the water treatment system: she organises water collection, monitors that the treatment system is operating effectively, cleans and delivers water tanks and manages the finances. “My husband is supportive of my work as my previous jobs have been very difficult, working in construction in a garment factory, this is much better,” she said. Mrs Nori earns a base salary of US$100 per month which enables her to support her family, as her husband does not have a permanent job.

Why is water treatment important?

Currently in rural Cambodia 46.6 per cent of households get their water from sources that can easily become contaminated and unfit for drinking. (Source: Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey).This is why UNICEF is committed to ensure communities have access to water treatment systems. Using an approach known as ‘community-led total sanitation’ the entire community is mobilized to work together to improve sanitation and promote the use of safe water. With training provided by local facilitators, managers of community drinking water treatment systems live and work within their own communities, like Mrs Nori.

Consuming water from the community drinking water treatment system also reduces the risk of arsenic poisoning. Kampong Cham is one of six provinces in Cambodia where the ground water is contaminated with arsenic, a poison and has with no colour, taste or smell. This contamination occurs mainly in sediments near the major rivers (such as the Mekong and Tonle Sap) and can compromise well water. Ingested in large quantities, arsenic can cause lifelong irreversible health problems such as skin lesions, changes in pigmentation, and, in extreme cases, cancer of the skin, lungs, kidneys and bladder. The community drinking water treatment system uses water from a well that has been tested for arsenic and deemed safe. Regular checks are also conducted on water quality, after the water has been filtered, with results showing there are very low and therefore safe levels of arsenic (well under the safety standard for Cambodia).

Mrs Nori earns a base salary of US$100 per month but she and her two colleagues also make a 3% profit for every bottle of water that is sold.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail
How the system works

The system works by collecting water from a local arsenic-free well and pumping it into two large tanks where a series of filters remove large pieces of dirt and excess iron to ensure it will have a good taste.

 Yea Phally (left) and Sok Khouen (right) inspect the filtration system. On the left are the large tanks where the water is stored and oxygenated after being collected from the well. In front are the tanks filled with sand, black rock and resin, all used to filter the water.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail
At the next stage the water is pumped through a UV (ultra-violet light) treatment system which takes out small particles of dirt and kills bacteria.

This is the UV filtration system. Down the bottom are the microbe filters, which take out small particles of dirt. The silver cylinder above is where the water passes through and is blasted with ultra-violet light.
 © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail

Challenges they face with the local community

Educating the local community on the benefits of drinking this filtered water is a constant challenge for the team.  As an alternative to well water, many people living in the area drink water from ponds because they don’t have to pay for it. But pond water can also cause diseases such as diarrhoea and other intestinal problems. While some boil water as a method of sterilization, this often kills all the good minerals as well as the bacteria. Mrs Nori says, “The technical side of the job is easy for me, the hard part is finding new clients [to buy the water].”

Water bottles being cleaned before they are re-filled.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail
 Yea Phally works for the NGO Teuk Saat 1001 and trains entrepreneurs from 11 communes in two provinces: Kampong Cham and Tboung Khmom. “In order for it [the facility] to be sustainable, it depends on the community,” Mr Phally said. Currently each new water bottle is sold at the low price of 18,000 riels (US$4.5). A refill costs 1,200 riels (US30₵). They also supply the local primary schools with 20 bottles per day, free of charge.

Mr Phally says the benefits to drinking this water are obvious. “I spoke to the health centre [for Vihear Thom commune] and they said in the six months since we have been operating, there has been a large decrease in the amount of people being treated for stomach problems,” he said.

Ton Pheang (68) arrives by bike to collect her water. She had been suffering from stomach problems and headaches after drinking water from the well, but since drinking the filtered water, her symptoms have gone.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail
Hopes for the future

The workers are passionate about delivering safe water to residents of the commune. Currently they sell around 1,300 bottles per month but are optimistic they can increase sales. “Sometimes it is difficult talking to people in the community about why they should pay for water when they can get it for free, but many have responded well, which is very encouraging,” Mrs Nori says.

Mrs Nori (centre) with her two workers. Sok Khouen (40) on the left and Leang Hak (20) on the right.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Jemma Somervail

1 comment:

  1. That is awesome these women are making money by doing a water delivery service. In that area, clean drinking water can be hard to get. It is nice that they have found a solution to make clean water more accessible and also make money for their families at the same time.