In Cambodia, piped water offers villagers a fresh start

Villagers install a pipe system to bring water from the Chambok waterfall to the surrounding villages. Photo: Mlup Baitong/UNDP Cambodia
Villagers install a pipe system to bring water from the Chambok waterfall to the surrounding villages. Photo: Mlup Baitong/UNDP Cambodia

There is virtually no free space left in Kri Ven’s backyard. After his home in Cambodia was connected to a pipe water system, his 300-square metres of land now host rows and rows of plants such as cabbage, radish and sugar cane.

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

Highlights

  • 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, vulnerable to floods, droughts and other weather-related disasters.
  • The pipe water system in Chambok is one of 45 projects helping 150 rural communities in risk areas build resilience to the impact of climate change.
  • The 4-years programme was funded by the Swedish International Development Agency.

In this commune about 120 kilometers west of the capital of Phnom Penh, the days of water shortages are now over. A pipe water system – which had previously been available only to 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 in turning their backyards into vegetable gardens for their own use and to sell for income.

The pipe system is part of project that assists 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 Small Grants Programme.

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

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

In November 2012, 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. A household that uses one valve pays a monthly utility fee of 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 last November, 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 save money for a rainy day by selling the vegetables.

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 earn extra income. Children can now spend more time on their studies since they no longer need to fetch water for their families. The water system has also helped villagers  improve their hygiene: the number of family toilets has increased, and villagers can bathe more often. Additionally, they can raise more livestock and grow vegetables in dry season to earn money.

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