Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
As with in most rural areas in Cambodia, residents of Prek Chrey have very poor access to clean water, adequate sanitation facilities, and proper hygiene. In addition to the limited financial resources and limited education of these families seen in other rural areas, Prek Chrey also faces the unique challenges of substantial seasonal flooding and arsenic contaminated groundwater.
Prior to KCD’s WASH efforts, only 27% of Prek Chrey residents had a latrine, and nearly all of those without a latrine were defecating directly into the environment (into the river, in the fields, etc.) where it can easily contaminate drinking water sources. Additionally, the seasonal flooding experienced in this area fills the pits of many of these traditional latrines, spreading fecal contaminants and further affecting the health of the community, particularly children.
One source of water in rural areas that is typically safe from fecal contaminants is groundwater, access by deep tube wells. However, the naturally occurring arsenic contamination that exists along the Mekong Delta region renders this water unsafe, particularly in Prek Chrey where levels of arsenic in the groundwater are among the highest seen in Cambodia. Further, the effects of arsenic poisoning are long-term, taking 10-20 years for symptoms to appear. This makes educating residents on the dangers of this water source very challenging.
With the support of The Johanniter, KCD conducted an exploratory project between October 2013 and April 2015 that set out to identify adequate WASH solutions while also educating families on healthy WASH behaviors.
The educational component was conducted utilizing a ‘training of trainers’ model to spread KCD’s messages from within the community. KCD recruited a group of more than 30 influential members of Prek Chrey (local government officials, teachers, health professionals, etc.) to conduct various WASH awareness activities with KCD’s support. These activities included: traditional awareness meetings, the filming and showing of a WASH video, and WASH campaigns. Additionally, these ‘WASH Key Persons’ consistently provided direct communication with and feedback from the community to help direct project decisions.
In identifying technological solutions to improved access to WASH services in Prek Chrey, KCD first looked to see what has been proven successful in areas facing similar challenges in Cambodia, the Southeast Asia region and around the world. It was soon discovered that there existed no proven, affordable, sustainable solutions to these challenges of arsenic contaminated groundwater and seasonal flooding.
Regarding arsenic, with no proven technological solution, KCD followed the Cambodian Government’s guidelines to educate beneficiaries on proper water treatment methods for non-arsenic contaminated surface water sources (rivers, lakes, ponds, etc.). With this strategy in mind, KCD also assisted two families in the construction of rainwater collection ponds to ensure these families had a water source that could last through the dry season.
Identifying an adequate sanitation solution for an area experiencing seasonal flooding proved particularly challenging. Throughout the project, KCD sought and developed relationships with relevant organizations that were also dealing with this issue. Most beneficial was KCD’s involvement in the newly founded Sanitation in Challenging Environments (SCE) group, where KCD began their partnership with Wetlands Work! (WW!), who were designing a flood resistant sanitation system. The two organizations worked together to construct 4 pilot sanitation systems in April 2015 that now serve 6 families.
KCD will continue to monitor and evaluate the success of these identified and piloted solutions. Making the appropriate adjustments based on these piloted systems, in the future KCD hopes to scale up these solutions to continue to improve the health of Prek Chrey residents, particularly children.