“I was very excited and could not sleep the whole night because I couldn’t wait to turn on [the] tap to allow for the people to use first drop of my piped treated water,” says Vat Naron, a water operator from Kampong Cham province’s Toul Preah Khleang commune.
Naron first applied to work with the Australian Government-funded project, Investing in Infrastructure (3i), in 2017 to provide piped treated water to almost 2,000 families in the commune. The program aims to provide one million rural Cambodians with access to piped treated water by working with individual water operators such as Naron.
Identified as “high risk”, Naron’s commune was contaminated by mines due to over four decades of internal conflict in Cambodia. Mines and unexploded ordinances (UXOs) are not only dangerous and have caused thousands of deaths and injuries in rural Cambodia, but also prevent efforts to provide clean, fresh piped and treated water to rural areas.
The installation of these pipes requires digging deep into the soil, and in some areas with scarce water resources, water operators must dig a pond or reservoir to store water, and the presence of mines can make this work not only dangerous but near impossible.
Partnering for Community Safety
Cambodia was one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world, with over 64,900 casualties recorded to date. The issue of landmines and UXO has gained substantial attention from Cambodian authorities; the Cambodian government added the problem of landmines and UXO as a key barrier to development when it added its own Sustainable Development Goal (18); ‘a mine/UXO free Cambodia’.
In 2018, 3i developed a residual risk management tool to help the program identify areas with a high risk of mines and UXOs. For these areas, the program engaged The Halo Trust, an accredited demining organization, to assess and clear mines and UXOs along the piped water network and adjacent areas. As a result, eight items were found, including six cluster munitions, one grenade and one mortar. They were removed and safely disposed of, and 1,640 sqm of land in the commune was released back to the community. This is just one of the 35 3i-supported sites where technical and non-technical assessments of mine and UXO have been conducted in Cambodia.
In addition, training is provided to the water company owners and pipe network workers on mines and UXOs, where they might be found in their specific communes, and the procedures for what to do if an item is found.
“Without mine clearance, we would run a high risk when we dig soil to install water pipes. I am glad that we had [the] deminer team to help us. We would not be able to provide clean, fresh, piped water to people in the communities so quickly, as I anticipated the pipe deployment would take a longer time to do and be riskier,” adds Naron.
Penh Yuth is among the first people in the commune to connect to the piped water. “I have waited for a long time for clean water. At one point, I was about to get a motorised water pump and water tank at home, but it would cost me around USD 650 to own one, plus the monthly electricity fee for water pumping. It is a lot of money; however, with piped treated water connection, I save a lot for my extended family of eight people.”
Trucked water can cost upwards of five times more than piped treated water. One cubic meter of trucked water in Yuth’s village can cost over USD 2.5, an enormous sum when taking into account that an average Cambodian person earns USD 4.5 a day.
Srey Meng, the Toul Preah Khleang commune chief, mentioned that he is delighted and proud that his commune has piped water. With that in place, he expects that many things will change for better especially related to their health. “I could see the difficulties that villagers have in accessing clean water. With clean, fresh, treated water infrastructure in place, people in my village will be more healthy especially in the context of COVID-19 when we have to wash hands with soap and water frequently.”
“3i’s Residual Risk Management approach to assessing and managing the risks of mines and UXOs along the planned pipe network has enabled water operators to have greater confidence when installing their infrastructure,” notes Stephanie Lymn, Chief Operating Officer of 3i program.
“This has reduced the risk to workers and community members, enabling faster construction. The training provided has benefits for those construction teams if they find an item during construction of other projects. The value-add for communities are hugely impactful, as adjacent areas can be released, returning it back into economically productive land,” adds Lymn.
“The project [3i] is an excellent example of how organisations like Palladium and The HALO Trust can work together to deliver high impact development projects,” notes Josh Ridley, The HALO Trust Cambodia Programme Officer.
“Infrastructure is a key ingredient for development and HALO has been privileged to partner with 3i on the water pipeline project to assist the supply of water to rural Cambodians. The infrastructure project complements HALO’s clearance of mined roads and footpaths to enable access to areas and the free movement of people and goods,” Ridley adds.
Over the past six years, 3i has worked with 80 water operators across the country. And to ensure continued safety, 3i has collaborated with The HALO Trust to check suspicious areas and clear mine and UXOs before water pipes are deployed. As of 2021, over 100 anti-personnel mines, 249 explosive remnants of war such as grenades, mortars, and fuses (including 25 cluster munitions) and 2,127 small arms ammunitions have been detected and cleared, and over 84,000 sqm of land has been cleared and released back to communities.
Sornnimul Khut is the Communications Manager for 3i. 3i is implemented by Palladium and funded by Australian Government through Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Learn more on their website or contact info@thepalladiumgroup.