Solar-powered pumps bring water into rural homes in Cambodia

Solar-powered pumps bring water into rural homes in Cambodia
Water distribution powered by solar energy brings clean water to villagers' homes in Kratie province. (UNDP)

Kratie – Clean water is a commodity often hard to come by for Cambodians living in the countryside. For the most part, running water is simply unheard of.

That is beginning to change now for many villagers in Kratie province, about 315 kilometers northeast of the capital Phnom Penh. Pumping systems powered by solar energy channel clean water straight into people’s homes that are not even connected to the main power grid.

“My house was the first to get the running water,” Chhae Sokhaeng, a 37-year-old woman, said with a chuckle while washing vegetable to fix lunch. Turning off the faucet to halt the water, she added “it is just so convenient and saves a lot of time.”

Highlights

  • This hi-tech utility is the latest intervention to help mitigate adverse effect of climate change on the villagers’ lives.
  • There are three solar water pumping stations across the commune.

Her family is one of the 150 households – or around 1,000 people – in the province’s Bos Leav commune that are now receiving, for the first time, clean water for cooking, drinking and washing. Such convenience can  help spare women like Chhae Sokhaeng the trouble of fetching water to spend more time on farming activities instead.  

The utility represents a small but significant breakthrough in tackling the larger water problem in the countryside that is home to some 80 percent of Cambodia’s 14.5 million people. Across the country, around 56 percent of the rural populations are still without access to safe drinking water sources.

Bos Leav commune used to be one of them until recently. The area is also no stranger to drought and flood. The villagers and their animals rely on a nearby stream for water for consumption. In dry season, the stream ebbs, forcing people to trek 20 meters down the bank to fetch water. In rainy season, the stream overflows to consume the wider landscape where animal droppings are a common sight. Cases of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea were also common.

“The water in the stream is simply dirty. You have to stir white alum in it to separate the residue first before you can even use it for cooking,” said Im Li, a farmer. “The pipe water is clean and I don’t have to worry so much about my children getting sick with diarrhea like in the past anymore.”

The 35-year-old man is also in charge of the water distribution in Preah Konlong village in the commune. Part of his job is to manage the power switch linking a well pump to the eight solar panels – each measuring 0.6-meter wide and 1.2-meter long – that rise above a six-meter high water tower overlooking the village’s horizon.

Once the switch is on, the pump pushes the water up into four tanks that together hold 35 cubic meters of water. From that height the water drops through a main pipe system that snakes through the village.

This hi-tech utility is the latest intervention to help mitigate adverse effect of climate change on the villagers’ lives. There are three solar water pumping stations across the commune. Each costs US$21,350 paid for by a climate change adaptation project in water resources and agriculture, a partnership between the Cambodian government, United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility with financial support from Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).

Although it’s still early to measure the extent of the impact, the villagers say the pump system is helping cut down significantly both the amount of time and money they used to spend on getting water and treating water-related illnesses.

“Every day, we had to spend more than 5,000 riel to buy gasoline to run the generator and pump water from the stream for storage. It was really hard to keep up with the expense,” In Aen, another 35-year-old farmer, said.

The villagers spoke of their plan to grow more vegetables around their houses during dry season, taking advantage of the new utility.

And so is afoot a plan for managing it.

Each of the three villages has formed a committee to draw up water use regulation. It will include limiting the amount of water a family can use per day to no more than 5 cubic meters at a fee of 1,000 riel (24 US cents) per cubic meter. The fee is less than half of the 2,300 riel (56 US cents) the provincial utility charges to the residents living in the nearby provincial town.

Im Li, the water distribution supervisor, said that imposing the limit will help ensure equitable share of the resource among the villagers. As for the fee, he said, it will go to building up a fund to help maintain the system.

“It is a big investment so we have to maintain it to last long,” he said.