Cambodia: Water for people, land, and livestock

Water is an essential element for people every day – for drinking, cooking, farming and more. While Cambodia may be abundant with fresh water during the rainy season, many rural people have to walk far from their homes to find the water they need during the dry season. It takes a lot of time, energy and strength to carry this heavy water such long distances.

Some wells exist in rural areas, but many of them are not in good condition. Once a hand-pump is broken, for instance, people usually remove the concrete cover and use bucket s to draw water: this contaminates the supply, as buckets are often dirty and various items end up in the uncovered well. In the worst case scenario, children fall in.

Wheel pumps for the household

Residents of Pursat Province, in the west of the country, approached the organisation Prom Vihear Thor, for assistance. Their request for wheel pumps for existing wells was approved by the NGO who also helped communities prepare strategies to ensure that the pumps and wells would be maintained. A three-person committee (chief, vice- chief and treasurer) was elected to manage any and all repairs, and it was communally decided that each family to use the pump would pay at least 500 riel (US$0.125) each month towards the maintenance fund.

Residents and committee members alike join training sessions by engineers who demonstrate how to use the pumps and how to make basic repairs. The benefits of these wheel pumps are truly multifold. The pumps are all-purpose in a household, from cooking to washing to drinking, and are produced at a high standard by members of the Cambodia-based NGO called Ideas at Work.

Making water safe to drink

Now there was water. The next challenge was to make sure it was safe to drink. So, residents also proposed that Prom Vihear Thor assist with water filters. The NGO provided thirty of the neediest families with these filters and helped set up another users group.

The filters which are relatively inexpensive, at US$10, are produced by another NGO, Resource Development International – Cambodia. Soil Lorm's family of four, with 0.5 hectares of land, typically only had enough food for a few months of the year, so they were one of these thirty priority families. As a member of the users group, she says, "I do not forget about cleaning the water filter so that we can use it for a long time…"

Irrigation for poor farmers

Soil Lorm lives in Thmey, a village of 111 families where almost everyone farms rice and vegetables. Another need the residents agreed was irrigation: without it, their harvests were small, and hunger and thirst great, both for livestock and people. Only some families could afford to rent irrigation pumps at US$2 an hour; many could not. Besides, the service was sometimes not available. So, there was also a proposal to Prom Vihear Thor for the provision of two diesel irrigation pumps.

And so, a third users group was formed, the largest – 204 people, of whom 102 are women and girls. The village has 529 residents, of whom 220 are female.

Peng Pou, the group's elected chief, says, "In the past, we faced a drought almost every year and did not have enough water to grow rice, especially during July and August, when it is dry… The pumps have really meant a lot for poor families. They can borrow the pump to irrigate their rice in a drought, and they can grow vegetables in the dry season when rice can not be grown. Members pay US$0.37 an hour, which goes to the maintenance fund. Adding costs of petrol, the total comes to about US$1.25, a saving of US$0.75 per hour."

Transforming people's lives

In all, the wheel pump, the irrigation pump, and the water filter have transformed people's lives. Children are healthier. Food is more plentiful. Families have more money for their basic needs. People are not as tired, since they no longer need to travel long distances to collect water or firewood.

Krouch Soam concludes, "I, Mrs. Krouch Soam, representative of the beneficiary families, would like to say a deep 'Thank You' to Prom Vihear Thor and Oxfam Hong Kong."

Story originally published by Oxfam Hong Kong.