Water security in a time of climate change
UNICEF works with the Royal Government of Cambodia and partners to ensure the country's water supply system is ready for climate change
“I’ve noticed that the weather is changing because of climate change. The rain happens too late in the year and there is too much of it,” says Juan Jim, a 42-year-old farmer in Kampong Speu province.
“As a farmer, it makes me worried about the future, since long dry spells cause problems and so does flooding. I also worry for my nephew and my niece, who live with me and depend on me.”
Jim is, however, reassured by the fact that four months ago he got his household connected to running water for the first time. This is the result of ongoing efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia, supported by UNICEF and other development partners, to improve water access in remote rural villages like the one he calls home. Running water means that even if a drought did occur, he would have access to water in the home, for cooking and cleaning. If the area is flooded, which can cause problems with existing water supplies or deliveries, he knows that he will still have piped water to rely on.
“Increasingly, climate change is at the top of our considerations when planning new water projects,” says Soriya Thun, a specialist within UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team. His team worked with the Global Water Partnership on developing a new Climate Resilient WASH Technical Brief, which guides UNICEF and its partners when developing new water sources and supplies. This methodology underpinned the development of a new reservoir in Kampong Speu which is now providing water to 21 villages in the area, most of whom have not had access to piped water before.
“Our method is to first do a risk assessment on the future impact of climate change in the area we are working. Then we ensure that the water source we are creating is sustainable and run a series of tests to make sure that boreholes to bring water up are tapping into a sustainable source. We also try to make sure that the water source management is as sustainable as possible, such as using solar energy to power pumps, which is what we have done here. Very importantly, we also put in place a contingency plan for how to respond to climate crises like floods or droughts.”
Sorn Sophat, the water supply operator in charge of the new reservoir, knows just how devastating such crises can be. “I used to operate another reservoir in the area but in 2013 it completely dried up because of drought.” He remembers the disruption and difficulty that the loss of water caused for all of his customers, and is grateful for the support of the Cambodian Government’s Water Supply Policy Department and UNICEF in helping him understand and be prepared for climate change.
“We know climate change will impact everyone and we are working to follow the national climate guidelines and also to build emergency resilience in communities,” says Som Kunthea, who leads the Water Supply Policy Department. Mr. Kunthea says that he has long considered Kampong Speu to be a priority area for his team, with a particular vulnerability to climate change due to limited availability of water sources.
Mr. Kunthea also has many years of experience working with climate crises, such as 2021’s severe flooding in the north of Cambodia. “It was a huge challenge, we worked to move people to higher and safer locations. I know the hardship it causes. One particularly important thing is to ensure that people get clean water in these situations, to stop them using unsafe floodwaters.”
Creating climate resilient water supplies is a complex endeavour and requires collaboration between many partners. While the Cambodian Government leads, the Japan Committee for UNICEF and the AEON 1% Club Foundation have played a crucial role in funding, and UNICEF has worked closely with NGO partners such as the Cambodian Water Supply Association (CWA) to ensure the successful implementation of projects in targeted areas.
Riel Vera is the programme manager for CWA and says that “everyone involved in water supply, including CWA, has to consider climate change as a priority. We need to integrate climate resilience into all projects, and we train operators like Mr. Sophat in how to prepare for climate events like drought or flood. We also make sure that the infrastructure is resilient, such as by drilling three boreholes, providing backup if one fails during a climate event.”
All of this is welcome news for local families like that of Prum Horn, a 73-year-old with three children and one newborn granddaughter. Mr. Horn is well prepared for the future, with a water tank that collects rain during the rainy season and newly connected piped water to take care of their familly’s needs during periods of drought.
“I’ve seen many changes over the years,” Mr. Horn says. “We used to collect our water from a well in the village, andlower a bucket down. I couldn’t do that now, not at my age. And I have noticed the weather changing in recent years. I’m glad that we have running water now, it was worth investing in getting connected. It could make a big difference in the future.”