"Water Is Life"

"Water Is Life"

Souen Lay, Committee Chair of AFD's “Safe Drinking Water Micro-business for Women’s Empowerment”, reviews the water sanitation equipment. Photo: SarahJane/Oxfam

“If we have water we have life. There is a link between water and life that cannot be broken because they rely on each other.”
Ms Souen Lay
Salavesey Commune

For communities around the world that have water literally ‘on tap’ the link between water and life isn’t a connection that’s regularly made.

If you’re from Kampong Thom Province in central Cambodia water is just as intrinsic to everyday life but the means to access this valuable commodity are much more time consuming.

For Souen Lay from Salavesey Commune, Kampong Thom Province, the value of water is synonymous with health care, education, women’s empowerment and survival.

“If we have water we have life.

“There is a link between water and life that cannot be broken because they rely on each other,” Souen Lay said.

Oxfam partner Action for Development (AFD) has worked with Salavesey Commune to establish its own business that provides affordable and clean drinking water.

Sharing Oxfam’s cross cutting programmes of gender equality and youth, AFD set up the “Safe Drinking Water Micro-business for Women’s Empowerment”.

Project Manager, Som Sopheak, said children and women are the focus of AFD because lack of water heavily impacts their everyday life.

Women are responsible for house work and lack of accessible water makes caring for the family difficult; children need clean water for their health so they can attend school.

AFD’s aim is to improve women’s involvement in community decisions around sustainable water use.

“Women have less power in terms of decision making in their own community.

“We try to empower them so that they can voice their concerns which benefit the whole community,” Mr Sopheak said.

The project currently supplies clean water to five villages in the commune, allowing women more time to work in trades that provide income, and children time to study rather than help with the time-consuming process of collecting and cleaning water.

For 1300 riel per 20 litres ($0.30US), three local schools and 552 families are supplied with clean drinking water.

It is half the market price of water sold by private companies in town and Committee Chair of the project Souen Lay said the increased access has improved community knowledge on the importance of drinking safe water.

“The key change is the behaviour; no one has gone back to drinking well water.

“They just use the water we produce and the key is its practicality,” she said.

The NGO 1001 that provided, and conducts the maintenance on, the French sanitation machines also provides the funds for the water sold to the three schools, each costing $150 per month.

Souen Lay said the price was decided through community consultation to ensure its affordability but that it was still too expensive to be a regular purchase for the poorer families in the commune.

“This project is very beneficial for the local people.

“If NGOs can, we need support for more schools because the students can benefit so much from the project.

“The poorest of the poor don’t have enough money to buy even our cheap water so if NGOs could support them to access the water that would be beneficial.

“Right now we have an idea to support these families but we are not stable enough to reduce the price which is why we are seeking funding from outsiders,” she said.

40 per cent of the projects profits are stored in a microfinance institution and are available to cover maintenance costs of the salination machine and for facilities that benefit the community.

50,000 riel was recently contributed to develop health services in the commune.

“The contribution the committee made helped the health centre.

“They had nowhere to store the ambulance and so we contributed to keep the car safe and created benefit for all the local people,” Souen Lay said.

Souen Lay said the committee would like to expand the project to increase fresh water access from the five current villages to each of the 17 villages that make up the commune, but that they are facing challenges with funding as well as ground water levels.

“There are two issues - when the bottles become old we don’t have the money to buy new ones.

“Another thing is that the ground water may not be so available at the current well level in the future.

“The difficulty is that the lower we have to dig there is more rock which we need special equipment for.”

The project currently accesses water via a six metre deep well but with current drought lowering ground water levels the depth may need to be increased by another 30 metres.  

AFD financial support for the project has recently finished and there is concern that privately funded companies may start up nearby, increasing price competition and further reducing the ground water level.

With this year’s dry season expected to be longer than usual the sustainability and future of this communes clean water resource will be tested.

Written by Sarah Jane, Communications Intern, Oxfam