From a water scarce to a water supplier – a tale of one Cambodian village
Kampong Speu - The late morning heat was building up and Nuon Chhuon realized it’s time to give his pigs a shower.
“They need to be hosed at least three times a day to cool off,” the 69-year-old farmer said, referring to the 10 piglets that were busy competing for their mother’s milk in the pen. “My son plans on getting married and this is where he will get his wedding money from.”
- All 67 houses in Kraing Serey village are now equipped with water-supplied toilets
- Children are able to attend classes more regularly as they no longer have to help their parents fetch water like they used to do in the past
- Plan is being discussed to extend the pipe to sell water to 400 houses in neighboring villages
Not long ago, raising pigs in his backyard never crossed his mind since his village of 335 people did not even have enough water for cooking and washing.
The construction of a water reservoir has finally put an end to their plight and brought significant changes to the lives of the people of Kraing Serey, in Kampong Speu province. And now they are discussing a bigger plan: to sell excess water to neighboring villages.
“There is more than enough water for us to go around these days. We can keep the excess water to entertain our eyes but that won’t bring any income to our community,” said Long Thim, 36, the community leader.
In the past, he said, the villagers spent on average four hours daily just on collecting water. Women, who make up more than half of the village’s population, bore the brunt of the work. Children also had to skip classes often to help with the task. Some people had their sleep shortened at night to rush to the wells before others could drain them of water. Others had to buy it from outside, paying US$2 for every 400 litres of water just to last a few days. That’s a heavy sum in a country where many people still scrape by on less than US$1 a day.
"Only after we found some water to bring home could we set our minds on other things for the rest of the day,” said Chea Sarom, 41 and a mother of five children. “My children used to look very unhappy whenever I made them go fetch water after they returned from school,” she added. They no longer have to shoulder the burden since their home is now hooked to a pipe system that brings water up to their front yard.
Kraing Serey village is among rural communities without access to a sufficient water source – whether for framing or consumption. But its proximity to a foothill, the villagers said, makes it impossible to dig any wells deep enough to provide one of human’s most essential needs. This is especially difficult during dry season.
The situation began to reverse in 2012. A reservoir – four meters deep and 5,400 square meters in size – was built, with funding from Sweden, to catch rainwater flushing down the surrounding hills. A pipeline was later laid to connect to all 67 houses in the village. They are now equipped with water-supplied toilets, which the villagers said have contributed to the decline in water-borne disease such as diarrhea among children. People are growing vegetables for sale and food. Others are raising pigs to diversify their source of income – and to collect manure to make cooking gas.
Now it’s time to reach out to help their neighbors.
Long Thim said that, in May this year, the pipeline was extended to sell water to 20 houses in a neighboring village at 2,000 riel (50 US cents) per cubic metre. He said the fee is only a third of the price charged by private water truck drivers. Currently, he and the villagers are studying a request to supply the water to another 400 homes in three adjacent villages.
“We knew fully well what it was like to live with water shortage and that is why we want to help others,” he said.
He acknowledged that his planned enterprise will face challenges, but he believed it is doable. The reservoir has the capacity to meet the needs of both current and new users all year round. New customers will be charged 50 US cents per cubic metre, effectively saving them US$1 for the same amount of water they buy from outside. He said money to be earned will be used for future development in his village and, most importantly, for ensuring the long life of the utility itself.
The reservoir project was carried out by the Small Grants Programme (SGP), with support from (UNDP), as part of a broader initiative to improve resilience of 450 rural communities in Cambodia to cope with effects of climate change.