Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kompong Kong residents connect to clean and safe piped water

The family are now connected to the piped water supply system.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
After taking her daily morning shower and eating breakfast with her family, 9-year-old Srey Neang from Preak Hang village, reads aloud from her Khmer text book, whilst swaying from side to side in a large, green hammock.  Neang, is preparing for school, but her mornings used to start in a completely different way.  Since April of this year, Neang’s family have been enjoying the benefits of being connected to a new piped water supply system, providing them with readily available, safe, treated drinking water which meets international quality standards.

“Every morning, I used to make several trips fetching water from the river to our house,” said Neang. “But now we have the piped water, I don’t have to fetch water anymore.”

Reducing illnesses

More than 400 households in rural Kampong Kong commune, 10 kilometres south from the capital Phnom Penh, are now connected to the 19 kilometre piped water supply system, giving them access to clean, and arsenic-free water. The new water source is treated, and a safe alternative from the arsenic water found in deep wells (more than 10 metres deep) or bacterial contaminants from river and pond sources. This greatly reduces the risks of residents contracting water related illnesses such as diarrorhea, typhoid, kidney disease, dengue and malaria.

“We used to access water straight from the Bassac River using the water on a daily basis for washing, cooking and drinking,” recalls 46-year-old, mother of four, Nou Siphat. "Twice a month, one of my children would suffer from bouts of diarrhoea, fever or stomach cramps and I’d take them to the health centre, however, since we’ve been connected to the piped system, none of the children have been ill.”
Siphat who is a widow and works as a gardener and cleaner at the local health centre earning 70,000 riel (US$17.50) per month, stated that every time she took her children to the health centre when they fell ill, she incurred additional costs. She would have to pay 500- 1000 riel (US$ 0.12-0.25) per consultation and 4,000 riel (UD$ 1.00) in transportation fees. These additional costs may seem small, but have a significant impact on the family’s monthly household budget. Actually, Siphat was spending 14 per cent of her monthly income on health care, which has dramatically reduced since the family connected to the piped water supply system.

“Unfortunately, of those who fell ill with water related illnesses, twenty-five per cent were children,” explained Hing Heang, Kampong Kong commune chief.

Safe water
Hing Heang, Kampong Kong Commune Chief.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
Kampong Kong commune is one of the most arsenic contaminated areas in Cambodia and it is imperative that residents access safe water sources that can be used for drinking without harming their health. The approximate population of the commune is 13,101, representing 13.1 per cent of the 100,000 people in Cambodia whose main drinking sources are contaminated with arsenic.
Many villagers used to purchase water – which was unregulated and often untreated - from mobile water vendors, paying up to 5000 riel (US$1.25) per water jar, holding 500 litres. However, three to five jars are needed for each household, and families with smaller incomes who could not afford to buy water, had to travel further afield to access free clean water.

“In Prek P’Ao village, residents used to travel 1-2 kilometres every day to get water from the well in the pagoda – the only safe water source in the village. At times, they would queue for hours with other villagers, collecting as much water as they could carry,” said Heang

Now with support from UNICEF and kind contributions from the Japan Committee for UNICEF and Japanese retailing company ÆON, the new piped water supply system covers ten villages in Kampong Kong commune, with the exception of L’Vea Tong village.

The Water Treatment Plant, located in Ch’Rung Romeas village, pumps water from the Bassac River, where it is treated for bacterial contamination and cleaned to international quality standards, before being circulated to hundreds of homes in the commune.

Connecting households

Households, who are connected to the piped water supply system, paid a connection fee of US$30 and a monthly utility fee based on the volume of water consumed. For example, households pay 2,000 riel (US$0.50) per 1m3, and if they consumed 3m3 of water, they would pay 6,000 riel (US$1.50). For those families identified as ID Poor, - a government system that identifies poor households and their level of poverty, so that families can access free or reduced services and can be directly targeted by development assistance -  they pay a subsided connection fee of US15, and receive the first 1m3 of water free, per month. If they consume more than 1m3, they pay 2,000 riel (US$0.50) per month, per 1m3. 

In fact, villagers who are connected to the system are now paying less for their water in comparison to what they used to pay the mobile water vendors. And fees collected from the villagers, enable the water treatment system to be self –sustaining and managed locally.

Improving living conditions

Having easier access to water is important to villagers in Kampong Kong commune who rely on rain for their water needs in their homes and on their farms. The water supply system responds to their water demands in the dry season and partly in the rainy season, when they can collect more rainwater. However, having easier access to water is not the only benefit of the piped water supply system. Villagers have improved their hygiene and sanitation practices through increased hand washing and bathing.

“I can shower more often and many things are easier,” said 9-year-old Neang grinning widely.

Future plans

When asked about the commune’s plans for the future, Heang states, “We plan to have all the residents in L’Vea Tong village connected to the piped water system by June next year, connecting an additional 1,500 households and 201 ID poor families. We’re also planning to reduce the monthly subsidised fee for ID poor families.”

Of the 100,000 people in Cambodia whose main drinking sources are contaminated with arsenic, UNICEF, with government, universities and local non-governmental organisations, is committed to ensuring that alternative sources are found, either through the promotion of systems to collect and store rainwater, shallow wells (less than ten metres deep), or treated piped water systems.

By Angelique Reid

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