Pipe water system offers villagers a fresh start


Villagers install pipe system to bring water from the Chambok waterfall to the surrounding villages. (Photo: Mlup Baitong)

Kampong Speu, Cambodia – There is virtually no free space left in the backyard of Kri Ven’s house. Rows of water convolvulus, cabbage, radish and sugar cane are crowding his 300-square meter land after his home got connected to a pipe water system.

“I am quite happy to have my own farm to grow vegetables for a living,” said Kri Ven, 28-year-old of Chambok commune in Kampong Speu province.

Highlights

  • A pipe water system has benefited some 600 families here
  • 20-kilometer pipe network has been completed

In this commune, about 120 kilometers west of the capital Phnom Penh, days of water shortage are now over. A pipe water system – which is so far available to only city residents – has finally come to the rural homes of some 600 families here. And thanks to the new utility, the villagers are now wasting no time to turn their backyards into vegetable gardens to feed themselves and sell for money to support their families.

The pipe system has been brought to them by a project that tries to assist rural communities in Cambodia to adapt to climate change. The project is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme through the GEF Small Grants Programme.

In fact, Chambok commune is famous for a natural waterfall that serves as a tourist attraction. But it had appeared out of reach to the local residents who simply could not afford to have a pipe system installed to channel water into their homes. In dry season, clean water was a rare commodity and the villagers spent an average two hours a day to fetch water from streams or wells for use. Some had to pay 2,500 riel (US$0.65) for container of 200 liters to last just for one day. The price seems insignificant but for many rural poor, it’s a burdensome amount.

“It was indescribable when talking about difficulty getting water before. My husband had no free time because he had to collect water from the well for cooking, drinking and washing,” said Ros Heng, a 29-year-old mother of three children.

In November last year, work was completed on a 20-kilometer pipe network to siphon water from the waterfall. Each of the 600 families in the commune is now hooked to the main system via smaller pipes. Household that uses one valve pays a monthly utility fee of 500 riel (US$0.12). Those having multiple spigots pay more fees, which are collected by a local committee to cover maintenance of the pipe system.  

Built on the positive results from a similar work in 2007, the new pipe system provides the villagers with water all year round to grow crop and vegetables to improve their livelihoods and resilience against impacts of climate change.

Helping to reduce the villager’s reliance on rainfall for farming is also an objective of the pipe system, a component of the SIDA-funded Cambodia Community Based Adaptation Programme.

Nuon Sareun, 47, recalled that she was forced to abandon her vegetable gardening several years ago simply because of the water shortage. But since November last year, she has been busy tending to water convolvulus, heading mustard and green mustard in her 180-square meter garden.

“I am so glad now to have water to grow vegetables again and to use for all purposes,” she said, adding that she also hopes to make saving from selling the vegetables for rainy days.

Touch Morn, the head of the Chambok Eco-Tourism Community, said benefits brought by the pipe water have been much greater than just helping families to earn extra income.  He said children can now spend more time on studies since they no longer need to care about fetching water for their families. The water system has also enabled the villagers to improve their hygiene. The number of family toilets has increased. The villagers can bathe more often, raise more livestock and grow vegetables in dry season to earn money.

 “We can see a lot of changes in people’s habits. In my village alone, the number of family toilets has increased to 20 now from only two before,” said Touch Morn.

Kri Ven recalled that, due to lack of water in previous dry seasons, he simply left the land in his backyard to be taken over by weeds while he went to drive a farm tractor for a local businessman to make a living. But soon after his home got hooked to the pipe water network, he quit the job to be self-employed instead.

He said: “Working on my own farm is not as stressful as working for others. I’m my own boss now.”