A raised well built with ECHO funding by the NGO Action Against Hunger has made a real difference to the lives of Ros Vanna and his fellow villagers in Kompong Ov Shring. The community lies on the shores of one of the River Mekong’s many tributaries, in the Cambodian province of Kompong Cham, and although there is plenty of water around on this natural flood plain, obtaining access to clean drinking water is not always so easy.
Ros Vanna, who chairs the five-member well maintenance committee, showed us how the villagers collect the water from the well opening situated on a concrete structure about two metres high. At first sight, it seems strange to have to walk up a flights of stairs on a concrete platform to gain access to a water source that lies deep underground. But the logic of the solution becomes clear when our host explains that during the last big floods, the whole area was under a metre of water.
In this part of the world, flooding is part of the natural cycle. The people have a long tradition of living with ‘normal’ flood conditions as, every rainy season, the waters rise by several metres. In recent years, however, excessive flood levels have stretched local coping capacities to the limit. Wells and boreholes have been inundated with dirty river water leading to the contamination of precious groundwater used for drinking. This led to big increases in the incidence of diarrhoea and other water-borne ailments. In an area where medical services are limited, such diseases can often be fatal for vulnerable people. Young children are particularly at risk.
A simple and practical way of preventing the pollution of groundwater sources when big floods occur is to raise the access point for the clean water above the flood level.
The raised well in Kompong Ov Shring is part of a much wider programme run by the NGO Action Against Hunger (AAH) in collaboration with the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC). ECHO financing has been provided through its disaster-preparedness programme (DIPECHO) for a range of water and sanitation actions in dozens of communities located in the Mekong flood plain. In addition to the basic infrastructure, the project includes training for villagers, provided by CRC volunteers, on how to maintain the new installations and on basic hygiene. The programme also includes the establishment of an early warning system to alert communities that floods are on the way.
In Kompong Ov Shring, the new well has already had a tangible effect. The number of cases of diarrhoea, we were told, has fallen significantly. “The people of the village are very happy with the well”, Ros Vanna told us. “It means we can be always be sure of having clean drinking water, even when we have abnormal floods.”