Cambodia: "Rehabilitated wells are good for children's health"

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In autumn 2013, several parts of Cambodia were severely affected by flooding, leaving many rural water supplies unusable and unsanitary. Unclean water and lack of sanitation and hygiene are among the leading causes of diarrhea – a preventable disease which kills an estimated 2 300 children in Cambodia every year.

With funding from the European Commission, UNICEF joined forces with the Cambodian government to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases for vulnerable children and their families, during and after a flood emergency. Some 98 000 households in flood-prone areas are expected to benefit from the joint EU-UNICEF initiative.

At Kokor Primary School, children are eager to use their new well to water their cherished vegetable garden. “Since the well has been rehabilitated and elevated, we don’t need to worry about the rainy season anymore,” explains Lorn Leang Heng, Kokor Primary School director. The school well is one of the 275 wells rehabilitated across Cambodia as part of a joint EU, UNICEF and Cambodian government initiative to strengthen preparedness and build resilience in flood-prone areas.

Older children run to the top of the 2-level well and start pumping water, while younger ones gather around the tap on the ground level and start passing around buckets and watering cans. “Having two water points means that, while the bottom one is under water when it floods, the top one remains dry and can still be used,” continues Lorn Leang Heng. “When the 2013 flood hit, the well was completely submerged: it took two weeks for the water to go down!” he adds.

Children help water the plot and pick the vegetables. Spinach, salad and morning glory (a type of water spinach popular in south-east Asia) are all grown at the school and eaten together by students and teachers come harvest time.

“What I like the most? Pumping the water!” says Man Manit, an 11-year old female student.

“Every year this area is subject to flooding,” explains Tong Phal Long, chief of Kokor commune. “After the floods in 2013, some of us continued to use the wells in the village but we had several diarrhea cases. We needed the wells to be chlorinated and repaired. We needed clean water,” adds Tin Sen, chief of Kokor 2 village. “Now people have started using village wells again: they feel more confident to do so because they see less diseases caused by contaminated water,” he concludes.

In Kokor 2 village, four out of a total of five wells have been rehabilitated (with one being raised), benefiting a total of 1 582 people. In most households, well water is used for cooking, bathing and washing; half of the villagers use it for drinking as well, after boiling it or using a water filter (the remaining half buy drinking water from water providers).

“Rehabilitated wells are good for children’s health and all household activities, including vegetable gardens,” explains Yin Saron, 53, mother of seven and farmer of chili, maize and rice. “With no well, I would have to go to the nearest pagoda to get water, one kilometre away from here. During the rainy season the area is flooded. I would need to take a boat to get to the pagoda,” she adds. “It is expensive and difficult for the community to mobilise the money for well repairs: the rehabilitation UNICEF and the EU delivered helped us a lot,” Yin concludes with a smile.

This joint EU-UNICEF initiative has supported the training of rural development teams in well chlorination and disinfection and of community members in basic sanitation and hygiene, and taught sub-national officials how to map wells with a user-friendly mobile application for tablets and smartphones.

Learn more about the EU-UNICEF partnership.