Climate Resilient WASH

How one commune in Takeo is taking steps to future proof their drinking water

Jesse Lee Gray
© UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
31 March 2022

17 March 2022, Takeo Province - “Until O-We came to our village, our drinking water came directly from the pond.  Sometimes I boiled it, but not always”, said Roth Dany, a 27-year-old mother of three and resident of Kouk Pou Commune in Takeo province.  “I’m so happy to have O-We bottled water as an option now. I trust the quality because I know the sellers from the community and have seen my kids’ health improve. It also tastes great and it’s at a price I can afford. When the rainy season comes I will keep buying O-we.”

Dany’s husband sends her $25 per month from his construction work in Svay Rieng. He is only able to visit his family a few times a year. Thanks to cash transfers provided to IDPoor cardholders like her, she is able to collect an additional support of 150,000 Riel or about $37.50 per month from the government. Although she lives on a very limited income, she still chooses to priortise safe drinking water for her family.  Her family consumes about 15 of O-We’s 20 litre bottles per month. At 1800 Riel per bottle that comes to about $6.75 per month or around 10 per cent of her monthly budget. The other bottled water options in the village are more than twice that much.

A reliable supply of safe drinking water isn’t a given for everyone in Cambodia. In fact, one in four rural Cambodians uses untreated water from unprotected natural sources, like collected rainwater, ponds, lakes or streams. Water from these sources poses health threats, in particular diarrheal diseases which are the leading cause of malnutrition and developmental setbacks for children under five years old.

On top of the health concerns, these water sources are also incredibly vulnerable to changing weather conditions. Cambodia’s tropical monsoon climate has two seasons: wet from May to October and dry from November to April.Wet months can mean flooding and dry ones can mean drought. Rural Cambodians experience a 22 per cent drop in supply during dry season compared to 2 per cent in urban areas. As with the other countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, flooding and droughts are expected to increase in terms of frequency, severity and duration as global temperatures rise. Without innovative local improvements to how water is managed, the climate crisis threatens to make clean drinking water an increasingly scarce commodity, likely to be out of reach for the most vulnerable.

Since 2019, UNICEF has been supporting the Royal Government of Cambodia to pinpoint areas at increasing risk of flood or drought and to design, then roll out sustainable climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene solutions. Throughout 2021, UNICEF has been working with local NGO Teuk Saat 1001 to set up climate-resilient water treatment and distribution kiosks, under their franchise brand O-We. The kiosks are run by locally recruited entrepreneurs who receive ongoing technical support and guidance on how to run a profitable business.  Each kiosk has a newly drilled and thoroughly tested well and a solar powered treatement facilitiy. The new well means a stable, safe supply of water, while solar power cuts the carbon footprint and reduces the cost to run the business. The reusable bottles keep the market price low and avoid additional plastic waste in the community. The establishment of water management committees for each commune has been key to getting new locations established, while operating contracts define everyone’s role and help guarantee the long-term sustainability of the set-up. With funding from Japan National Committee for UNICEF and AEON Japan, this project is helping to support the ambitious goal set by the Ministry of Rural Development to reach 100% of the population with access to improved water supply by 2025.

Sun Bich, chief of the water committee in Takeo’s Kouk Pou commune, is happy that they decided to put the O-We water treatment kiosk next to the commune meeting room so that people can easily see for themselves where their water comes from.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
Sun Bich, chief of the water committee in Takeo’s Kouk Pou Commune, is happy that they decided to put the O-We water treatment kiosk next to the commune meeting room so that people can easily see for themselves where their water comes from.

“It can be tough for everyone to have enough water in the dry season. As heat increases, demand goes up and supply goes down. This year, with our new climate-resilient system in place, I feel more confident about our commune’s water supply than in past years.”

said Sun Bich, the Chief of the Water Committee in Takeo’s Kouk Pou commune.

His four-person committee represents the eight villages in the commune. They are charged with ensuring the water quality stays high and that the supply and demand are balanced so that the community is well-served and the entrepreneurs generate enough income to maintain the kiosk.   

The first few months, the committee’s biggest job was creating trust in the new water brand. They chose to put the kiosk right next to the commune meeting room – a high traffic area, open to the public - which allows locals to see the facilities, understand how the water is cleaned and build trust in the community.

Choum Sophorn poses with her husband and twin four-year-old daughters in her home next to the 20 litre O-We drinking water bottle that is delivered to her home every three days.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
Choum Sophorn poses with her husband and twin four-year-old daughters in her home next to the 20 litre O-We drinking water bottle that is delivered to her home every three days.

The three-person O-We kiosk team in Kouk Pou commune are a family – father, mother and oldest son – who work together to process the water, clean reclaimed bottles, refill them with treated water, and deliver straight to their customers’ homes. They have been up and running for five months.

(L-R) Sien Teav, Koy Ol, and On An, stand proudly in front of their solar-powered O-We water treatment kiosk in Kouk Pou Commune, Takeo province.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
(L-R) Sien Teav, Koy Ol, and On An, stand proudly in front of their solar-powered O-We water treatment kiosk in Kouk Pou Commune, Takeo province.

The groundwater well provides ample supply and has been tested for quality and safety, but it still has to be processed. The water comes from the well, located about 50 meters away and fills the 3000L supply tank. From there, source water is filtered through three different systems to balance PH and mineral content, before being put into a clean tank and UV treated. Finally, before bottling for customers, the treated drinking water is tested a final time to ensure optimum quality. Currently, if there are no clouds in the sky, they can fully process around 100 bottles per day, but can deliver and sell up to 160 bottles per day.

From the raw water storage in the loft, the water is pumped through three different filter tanks before being UV treated and used to refill sanitized 20 liter bottles.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
From the raw water storage in the loft, the water is pumped through three different filter tanks before being UV treated and used to refill sanitized 20 liter bottles.
On An stands next to the UV filtration system and holds up some freshly filled bottles, ready to be sealed before delivering directly to customers in Kouk Pou commune.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
On An stands next to the UV filtration system and holds up some freshly filled bottles, ready to be sealed before delivering directly to customers in Kouk Pou commune.

“I feel so lucky to run this business with my family, backed by support from Teuk Saat, UNICEF and our community leaders and customers. I’m proud to sell such a high-quality product that makes a real difference in the health and security of our commune”, beamed Sien Teav, the matriarch of the kiosk.

Sien Teav pours hot water over plastic shrinkwrap to ensure the treated water stays sealed and safe before delivery to customers in Kouk Pou commune.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
Sien Teav pours hot water over plastic shrinkwrap to ensure the treated water stays sealed and safe before delivery to customers in Kouk Pou commune.
On An gets ready for one of his two daily deliveries to customers in Kouk Pou commune. His truck can hold 40 bottles of water.
UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But
On An gets ready for one of his two daily deliveries to customers in Kouk Pou commune. His truck can hold 40 bottles of water.

Responding to requests from the kiosk owners and the commune water committee, Mr. Touch Lim, Senior Technical Advisor at Teuk Saat said, “We plan to hook the station up to the electrical grid as a back-up for cloudy days when solar power isn’t enough. Even though electricity can be expensive, the amount required to complement the solar system, about $12 per month,  shouldn’t put a financial burden on the entrepreneurs or raise prices for customers. And most importantly, having a hybrid power system makes the water station even more resilient and likely to succeed in the long-term.”

The community has really embraced O-We and demand is definitely up. Now the biggest priority is ensuring that supply can keep up with the demand. UNICEF will continue to work hand-in-hand with the Royal Government of Cambodia  to prepare local communities across Cambodia to rise to the demands of an uncertain climate future and ensure all Cambodian children have access to clean drinking water.