The latest drought across Cambodia has shone the spotlight on the need for clean fresh water. State initiatives to bring clean bottled water to drought-stricken villages has been useful, but only for the short term. What every Cambodian needs is steady, reliable access to clean fresh water. A recent UNICEF report, dated 2014, calculated that 6.3 million out of Cambodia’s 14.9 million population lacked access to clean drinking water. The problem is, in particular, a rural problem (80% of Phnom Penh’s population has access to clean drinking water,) and the main reason for the problem – the report stated – was that the Government has simply made other developments a higher priority. New roads have higher priority than access to water.
- Some 40 percent of primary schools and 35 percent of health centers in the country do not have access to safe water and sanitation.
- The lack of access to clean water leaves Cambodian children vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea, which is the second leading cause of death among children under five, according to UNICEF.
- According to WaterAid at least 380 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Since 2014, according to international aid agency WaterAid there is now a national strategy, outlined by the Government, of reaching universal access to clean water by 2025: an objective that will not only play catch-up with the 6 million who lack adequate water supplies today, but will need to also reach the expanding population projected to reach at least 17.5 million by 2025. Can they achieve this?
The digging of wells is the main solution in the rural villages though for the cities the provision of mains supply water is the main emphasis: treating lake, river sourced or well-sourced waters with full filtration systems as well as chemical treatment such as flouridation or chlorination.
Compounding the problem is the presence of two hazards in the ground and surface waters usually drawn upon by villages. One hazard is naturally occurring arsenic: an issue that affects the whole Mekong delta region. On this front Cambodia’s official ‘acceptable’ limit is 50 parts per million – in contrast to 30ppm in most Western countries.
An even more significant hazard is the presence of TTCs (thermo-tolerant coliform bacteria). For these bacteria, water treatment is needed.
Today in the face of drought, now and in the future, the provision of wells is a laudable initiative, and their are many agencies engaged with this – and worth supporting. My friend Savong has helped many well-building projects in rural Siem Reap.
But Cambodia also needs more reservoirs to effectively store water gathered during peak rainy periods and create a top-up for groundwater which, many experts believe, is sinking significantly.
The more wells or holes dug into the groundwater, the more pressure it loses causing well water levels to drop. That’s according to Mekong River Commission technical adviser Ian Thomas as reported in the Phnom Penh Post, last March 4th. A February Stanford University study found the more wells Cambodians dig, the harder it will be to extract water.
The building of reservoirs, (Angkor’s East and West Baray are good examples from 1,000 years ago,) would provide greater eco-stability for farming, fishing, and general water supply.
But for now, reservoirs and wells are just the start. Treating the water is also necessary. Water filters are a big part of the story. If you are supporting a water project, ask about the need for water filtration and treatment.
- Sixty dollars will by a good basic bio-sand filter via Water for Cambodia.
- Or Ceramic Filters, (they look like clay pots,) which are also recommended, are available through Resource Development International – who also supply water testing kits if you are worried about arsenic levels.
Further reading in this blog:
For more on the politics of water in Cambodia Who owns the Mekong? The intricate politics of water.
Also about the 2016 Drought
For other Facts and Figures about Cambodia