Thursday, March 23, 2017

Improved health in the pipeline as tap water becomes available

By Dek Vimean Pheakdey

Mr. Seng Bunlam, 37, stands outside his home in Kampong Chamlong Village, in Kandal Province
©Cambodian Water Supply Association/2016/Dek Vimean Pheakdey  

Poor and marginalized communities in Cambodia are benefitting from a piped water connection project that is providing safe water in areas affected by arsenic contamination.

Despite good progress in recent years, over one third of people living in rural areas in Cambodia use water from an unimproved source (DHS 2015). These water sources are at risk of contamination which may adversely affect the health of the population, and in areas affected by naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater, users may be at particular risk when drinking water from wells and boreholes.

Piped water supplies, where surface water is treated to make it safer to drink, provide an alternative improved water source and are also more convenient because users no longer have to spend time much of their time in collecting water. However the cost of connecting to piped systems can be prohibitive for poorer families.

With support from UNICEF, over 1,000 households living in areas exposed to the risk of groundwater arsenic contamination, including over 600 poor households, have received assistance during 2016 to connect to piped water supply systems. The Japanese and the German National Committees for UNICEF provided the financial support which has made this intervention possible.

One such recipient of this piped water scheme is thirty-seven year-old Seng Bunlam who lives with his wife in Kampong Chamlong village, in Kandal province.

The couple reside in a small building constructed from leaf and bamboo, with a zinc roof. Mr. Bunlam makes a living picking plants such as water convolvulus (a species of bindweed) and water hyacinth flowers from the river for sale in the market.

He can earn 6,000 Riel (approximately US$1.5) a day from selling this produce. His wife, Sao Leangsrim, works as a waitress in a local restaurant and earns 260,000 Riel (approximately US$65) per month.

The couple are classed as poor and have received an Identification of Poor Household (ID Poor) card from the Ministry of Planning.

Before they were connected to the water supply, they had to rely on water from a river situated 150 meters away from their home. This meant Mr. Bunlam had to carry two large buckets of water attached by a yoke which was a laborious and time consuming activity.

He said: “It was difficult to carry water out of the river. I sometime fell down to the river because the river bank was so steep. I had to spend at least 2.5 hours every day to fill a 300 litre jar with water.” Mr. Bunlam had to make several trips between his house and the river to fill in the large jar used to store water outside his home.

The river water quality is poor in both wet and dry seasons. It has high turbidity during the wet season because the particles and sediment are stirred up and in the dry season the water is polluted by domestic waste.

Mr. Seng Bunlam, 37, collects water from an urn outside his home in Kampong Chamlong village
©Cambodian Water Supply Association/2016/Dek Vimean Pheakdey 

Mr. Bunlam said: “I was sick very often. I thought that it was because of the untreated water that I used.”

Poor households in Kampong Chamlong village were encouraged to connect to the piped water supply through a subsidy scheme created between UNICEF, the Cambodian Water Supply Association (CWA) and the NGO, the Kampong Chamlong Water Service Provider, under the supervision of the Ministry of Rural Development, and Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

This is a critical intervention in a village which is at high risk of arsenic contamination.

Besides the piped network connection subsidy programme for poor households, the CWA has also assisted the Kampong Chamlong Water Service Provider to conduct community awareness workshops at the village level on the importance of using clean water and the detrimental impact of arsenic contamination on health.

Mr. Bunlam was one of the participants who attended the workshop. Having understood the importance of clean water and the subsidy programme, he submitted a request form to participate in the scheme.

The full water connection fee is usually 290,000 Riel (approximately US$72.5), but the water service provider discounts 54,000 Riel (about US$13.5) and Mr. Bunlam only had to pay 100,000 Riel (approximately US$25) as the rest was covered by the project’s subsidy scheme.

After using the piped water supply for over six months, Mr. Bunlam has more time to take care of his family and extra hours to work in order to provide more income for his family.

He also said that his health is better than before. “It is very convenient using piped water. I can use it whenever I need especially at night time. Sometimes, when the weather was hot at night I took a bathing several times.”

Mr. Bunlam said he only pays 2,500 Riel (US$ 0.63) a month for the piped water supply which covers all his family’s bathing, drinking and cooking needs.

As his wife Sao Leangsrim is pregnant, Mr. Bunlam is safe in the knowledge that she is not taking risks by bathing in the river. Furthermore, the piped water is clean, with no contamination and less turbidity, which is in accordance with the national drinking water quality standard.

“I am very happy that my family has obtained piped water,” he said. “Without this subsidy programme, I don’t know where I could access this clean water. I want to see my wife healthy by using improved water during her pregnancy period.”

*Mr Dek Vimean Pheakdey is the Project Coordinator at the Cambodian Water Supply Association.

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