Cambodia: Filtering away disease

A simple household water treatment system is helping poor families in Cambodia enjoy better health, as Oxfam's Maureen Bathgate learned during a recent visit.

Sok Bun retrieves a jug from a table, pours water into a clear glass mug and then takes a sip. “The water is good, it’s clean,” she says with a smile. “I don’t get sick anymore, not since we’ve been using the water filter jar.”

Living in the small village of Damrey Phoung, on the banks of the Mekong River, in Cambodia, access to water has never been an issue for Bun and her family — the large ceramic water jar that sits beside their house is almost always full thanks to the 12 buckets of water that Bun collects from the river each day. It’s the quality of the water that has been the problem.

The river, which provides the family with fish for eating, irrigation for their rice crops and a means of accessing the market and hospital at the provincial capital Stung Treng, is also used by most of the village’s 634 residents for washing and bathing. It’s also common to find buffaloes and other livestock drinking, defecating and lounging in the water.

“The water from the river is dirty,” Bun says. “We can’t drink the water straight from the river. If we do, we get sick.”

“I boil the water first”

Mrs Sok Bun and Mr Niam Po Vuth Sady with their water filter provided by Oxfam. Credit: Timothy Herbert/OxfamAUS

Mrs. Sok Bun and Mr. Niam Po Vuth Sady with their Oxfam water filter. Credit: Timothy Herbert/OxfamAUS

Oxfam Australia provided Bun and her family with a household filtration system, known as a water filter jar. The filter comes in two parts — a ceramic pot shaped like a flowerpot, and a round plastic container that has a lid and a tap. Raw water is poured into the pot and filters through to the lower container over 2–3 hours. The contaminants are mechanically trapped in the pores in the ceramic, while silver contained in the pot disinfects the water as it seeps through. Water quality tests have found that water treated using a water filter jar in household conditions has up to 99.99% less E. coli than untreated water1.

“The water filter jar is the main water source for us,” Bun says. “I boil the water first, then put it through the filter because I’m afraid of the bacteria and disease.”

Bun was trained in how to use and clean the filter and also attended an Oxfam Australia training session on safe hygiene practices.

“I took part in the village training in how to prevent disease. Now I know that I must boil the water before drinking it, clean water containers before using them, and wash my hands with soap, so that I don’t get sick,” Bun says.

“Before I had a water filter jar I always struggled with diarrhea. Now that I boil water and have a water filter jar my health is better. And it’s the same for other members of my family too.”

Preventing diarrhea

Damrey Phoung village leader Mun Chun says the water filter jars have been a great help to families in his village, particularly during floods when water supplies can become quickly contaminated. So far, 47 families in the village have received the units.

“We have a safe area, on higher ground, and when there’s a flood people move there,” he says. “People take their water filter jars with them so they can have clean water to drink.”

The water filter jars came in handy when the floods following Typhoon Ketsana left people in Damrey Phoung without clean water. In all, Oxfam distributed the household filters to 319 families in flood-affected areas and provided training in filter usage and safe hygiene practices to help curb the growing rate of diarrheal diseases.

1 UNICEF Water and Sanitation Program, August 2007.

Article originally published by Oxfam Australia.