Friday, March 23, 2018

Active community participation supplies the essential source of life

By Sovath Ngin

‘Strem Te’ flowing through Thma Andaeuk village.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/ Sovath Ngin

Kratie province, Cambodia, March 2018 – An isolated rural community has become a role model for its efficient management of local resources and ensuring future generations have safe drinking water so their communes can flourish and lead safer and healthier lives.
Thma Andaeuk is one of eight communes in Chetr Borie District in Kratie province and is located approximately 30 km from the provincial capital. It consists of a total of six villages, with a total population of 5,497 people, according to the Commune Database of 2016.

The commune takes pride in the progress it has recently made in the areas of safe drinking water, environmental sanitation and hygiene. Issues of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) are hot topics at the commune’s monthly meeting and lively discourse has advanced the community’s ability to influence change.

Mr Oeur Samom, a commune clerk and member of the commune Water Safety Plan (WSP) team, said: “So far we have discussed mainly about the pollution to our water source called Stream Te and how to change people’s behaviour towards trash management and safe drinking water and we found the solution to these issues based on our Water Safety Plan.” 

The WSP manages the supply of water, from the initial source to the point of drinking in order to ensure safety in public water supplies in households, schools, health centres and other public facilities.

The plan has been implemented in 80 villages in arsenic-affected provinces across Cambodia between 2016 and 2017, with coordination from the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD) and support from UNICEF.

The commune and Water Safety Plan team
conduct discussions during their monthly meeting.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/ Sovath Ngin

A successful WSP requires active participation at all levels, including competent support from PDRD officials to community-level participation, so it can be successfully implemented and maintained. It is the perfect example of a community instigating behavioural change through a highly effective face-to-face interaction with community members.

The WSP team in Thma Andaeuk commune is chaired by the commune chief, backed by two vice-chiefs and supported by Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) members, village chiefs, school directors and health centre managers.

Collectively, these individuals have developed a clear understanding of their local water sources and the importance of WSP in maintaining the following important resource management processes: water source protection; appropriate water handling practices; safety at the point of consumption, and; a clean community environment.
Implementation of WSP has seen remarkable behaviour change in the commune over a one-year period.

Stream Te, the main water source in the commune, was previously heavily polluted through the disposal of farm animal faeces by people living along the bank. After the WSP team conducted door-to-door awareness raising on water quality contamination and water source protection, one of the five households living near the stream stopped raising their animals in the vicinity and moved their livestock to a grazing plot at a safe distance away.

The other four remaining households were unable to do this because of a lack of suitable land. However, the WSP intervened through a creative initiative to manage animal faeces properly by collecting and storing it in plastic bags and converting it into fertilizer for later use in agricultural production. 

Since December 2016, the WSP team has been actively conducting a behaviour change campaign in their commune. Members of the team and volunteers visit each household in their village between one to four times each month to meet with families, discuss topics and inform them on issues related to safe drinking water, appropriate waste disposal practices and how to create a clean living environment.

And these efforts are already generating positive results. A WSP team member said: “After the implementation of the water safety plan activities, there has been an increase in people drinking safe water.

“Around 15 per cent of total households in the commune drink boiled water; 30 per cent drink filtered water; and 55 per cent drink bottled water from the Lien Aid [an NGO implementing clean water projects] water kiosk that was supported by UNICEF and Lien Aid.

“Among these people, only 10 to 15 per cent have to drink unclean water, but only when they go to their farms far away from their houses.”

The WSP team has also been highly productive in conducting a behaviour change campaign to educate people about keeping their living environment clean.

Ms. Kon Sokha, a volunteer in Som Pong village WSP team, said: “The trash management at the household level has improved dramatically from 100 per cent throwing trash everywhere without proper trash management to 30 per cent collecting their trash into a proper trash bin and burning it, for example, in the backyard of their house.”

Apart from the success in water source protection and a cleaner living environment, PDRD has also observed an increase in the community’s practice in the safe handling of their drinking water.

For example, in Som Pong village 18 households out of 263 have elevated water jars suspended off the ground with proper covers and drinking cups stored in clean hygienic storage containers. This helps protect the stored water from contamination.

Water storage jars elevated by a wooden platform
for protection from contamination,
at Som Pong Village, Thma Andaeuk Commune.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/ Sovath Ngin

An elevated dug-well at Thma Andaeuk commune,
to protect the water source from contamination during flooding.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/ Sovath Ngin

Even though this seems to be small change in local peoples’ practices in the safe handling of their drinking water, it is a good starting point for WSP team members to actively conduct further awareness raising, with the aim to get 100 per cent of villagers involved in safe water storage.

This collective responsibility has yielded positive developments in other areas. For example, residents of Laork village, a very remote community in Thma Andaeuk commune, have increased their ability to respond to natural hazards.

Villagers previously had to use water from a well polluted by a flood in past years, but a recent initiative saw the construction of a protective apron around the well to stop water from contamination in future floods.

The key factor in making Thma Andaeuk commune a role model for other communities has been the active participation and cooperation between WSP teams and the wider community.

Mr. Heng Khom, a member of the WSP, said: “During our monthly meeting, we always raise WASH issues occurring in our commune and find solutions.

“The biggest contributor to our achievement so far is the village WSP team and volunteers who have worked so hard in community awareness raising.”

Despite these successful activities, numerous challenges remain to ensure that the locality remains a ‘safe water commune’.

For example, people living upstream in Kantout and Thmei villages still throw their refuse into Stream Te which is detrimental to those living downstream of this tributary.

As a response, the commune is planning to cooperate with upstream WSP teams to conduct awareness raising so effective water resource management practices can be replicated.

Expanding the WSP model would help more communities adopt healthier behaviours towards resource management and become ‘safe water communes’ with a better quality of life for all.

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