“Why aren’t you using water as intended?”

On 18 February 2017, WISE volunteers Kimleng, Nora and Chivin joined Dim from Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) on a trip to Koh Pdao, a village along the Mekong River in Kratie province, Cambodia. WISE had been tasked to advise on how CRDT could improve on the water supply system in the village.

Welcome to Koh Pdao Village!

CRDT had installed a water supply system at Koh Pdao in 2013, with the aim of providing families with water for livestock and crops such as rice and vegetables. Instead, families started taking the water for drinking, cooking and washing! This was a concern because the water was not of a quality suitable for drinking.

Thus, Dim reached out to Engineering Good, a nonprofit based in Singapore who had been working with CRDT, for support. WISE eventually took up the challenge. Besides water quality, CRDT wanted to explore whether the water supply system could be transformed into a social enterprise where revenue could cover maintenance and administrative costs. Families were currently paying 2,500 riels (US$0.625) per cubic metre of water. Incidentally, clean water in Kratie Town cost 1,800 riels (US$0.45), which partly explained why families felt it would be more worthwhile to drink the water rather than use it for farming.

The water supply system at Koh Pdao

Kimleng, Nora and Chivin spoke to the users as well as operators of the water treatment plant. Users were happy with the existing water, but seemed to have a limited understanding of what clean water was. The operators, on the other hand, were concerned about water loss. The operators suggested that water use was being under-recorded. The water supply system was under-utilised because people were using water for daily use instead of for their farms. Hence there were 2 key challenges: people were using the water to drink but the water was not clean enough, and operators were not generating sufficient revenue.

The experience in Koh Pdao is a stark reminder of how projects often do not turn out as expected. With water supply, it is important to understand existing practices and the underlying motivations that drive behaviour. This is not easy to do and requires building trust with the community and asking the right questions.

We would like to thank CRDT for the opportunity to be involved in the project. To find out what recommendations WISE made to CRDT, click here!

The article was originally written for the July 2017 edition of WISE’s monthly email newsletter.

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