Ramsar and Danone promote safe access to water in Cambodia

Ramsar and Danone promote safe access to water in Cambodia

22 novembre 2004

A partnership in action...

Sebastià Semene Guitart, the Ramsar Convention - 18/11/04.

A delegation from the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention and the DANONE Group visited the district of Banteay Srei, Province of Siem Reap, in Northern Cambodia, earlier this week, where one of the projects of the DANONE/Evian Fund for water's portfolio is being undertaken. This is a pilot project to test sustainable water resources management on the ground. Many villages of the district of Banteay Srei have no safe access to water. Until now, the villagers relied on swamps and other temporary water bodies to survive and fulfill their basic needs. This water was used for any domestic usage or agricultural purpose, without any treatment. Water from the swamps was used for washing, cooking, agriculture, etc, and was used both by the villagers and the animals. The only "pure" or drinkable available water is underground, but there is virtually no information available on the carrying capacity of the aquifer or its exact coverage.

Bantaey Srei is in one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia, where the youngest still remember the last fights against the Khmer Rouge who remained in the area until 1996. The majority of the area is still covered with anti-personnel mines and around 50 persons are still killed or injured every month by this legacy of the civil war. It's in this area that the Ramsar Convention and the DANONE Group decided to join efforts to bring water to the villages of Banteay Srei. This project has a dual focus on development and conservation of the environment. On the one hand, bringing water to the villages is obviously contributing to a better livelihood for the inhabitants of the area and has strong consequences on the sanitation and health levels of the area - and in turn is promoting greater social cohesion. On the other hand, by providing "safe" water to the people, this project relieves some pressure on the wetlands of the area, until now used for everything.

For more than 10 years, hydrogeologist Pierre Gubri has been digging wells in the villages of the Banteay Srei province, first from his own efforts and then with the help of the Ramsar Convention and the DANONE/Evian Fund. A total of 34 wells and water pumps have been built in three communes (Run Ta Ek, Rum Chek and Tbeng) and eight villages (Srè Chanhot, Chey, Sala Kravann, Rum Chek, Sras Kvav, Tbeng Lech, Tbeng Ket and Watt). The project was funded by the Ramsar Convention, through the DANONE/Evian Fund for the year 2004, with the aim of raising local communities' awareness of the wise use of water and the conservation of wetlands - through the establishment of a "safe" water system. The project is implemented solely through the digging of the wells and the setting of the water pumps. The basic maintenance can then be done by the villagers or by a technician specially trained by this project and in charge of supervising the 34 pumps of the area. The wells dug are 100cm diameter wide with a double concentric structure so that the maintenance is easier when the well is blocked. The upper structure (on the ground) is composed of a platform, closed by fence to prevent cattle entering the area, wherethe pump stands in the middle. Water surplus is then redirected to an area next to the pumps, where the villagers then use it for basic agriculture (crops, fruit trees, etc.) creating a new source of income for the local communities.

The results of the projects are quite impressive. Heath conditions have drastically improved, with statistics from the major NGOs and health centers in the region highlighting a drop off of 80% of consultations in the health centers adjacent to the project area. NGOs also witness a decline in the cases of skin and eye diseases, especially amongst children, as well as cases of scabies, conjunctivitis and trachoma. As for drinking water, the availability of underground drinking water instead of the usual rain water present in the swamps allowed a reduction of the cases of viral diseases like gastroenteritis, diarrheic diseases, typhoid and paratyphoid fevers in adults and increasingly, the disappearing of exanthemata typhus. The areas chosen for the pilot project were amongst the poorest and less developed communities of the province. After the installation of the wells, we have been able to witness the shifting of people and houses to the closer areas to the pumps, the building of new and "stronger" settlements and the establishment of a local economy until now non-existent. The surplus of water is used to irrigate some fields, adjacent to the pumps, where the villagers planted fruit trees (mango, banana, etc.) and some crops (maize, beans, salads, etc.). Some villages are now even able to sell part of their production in the markets in Siem Reap, bringing back some money and improving substantially the livelihood of the villages. This developing economy also has some effect on the deforestation rate. Previously wood was the only product the villagers could sell on the markets. With the availability of water, they now have a basic agriculture and can sell more lucrative products.

This project reflects the broader water vision the Ramsar Convention is now developing. In the next few years, with the continuation of the DANONE/Evian Fund, Ramsar will maintain its support to this project and almost certainly develop similar projects. The objective is to dig and set up 40 more wells and water pumps before the end of 2007, in order to improve a wider area. A total of 1369 houses and 7855 people have been able to access safe drinking water thanks to this project. With 40 pumps more, some villages will get an even easier access to water and some 6800 persons will gain access. The indirect gains in health and sanitation are impossible to calculate but the decreased pressure on Siem Reap hospital and health center is evident. This project is the perfect illustration of how the Ramsar Convention sees the integrated approach of "water for people" - a simple motto highlighted by the name of the association created to support this Ramsar-DANONE/Evian project: Water for everybody.

On 17 November 2004, a delegation from the Ramsar Convention and the DANONE Group went to the villages of Banteay Srei for the official ceremony celebrating the end of the first phase of the project and the finalization of the first 34 wells. The participants were Peter Bridgewater and Sebastià Semene Guitart (the Ramsar Convention), Pascale Monnerot and Marcel Berteau (Groupe DANONE) and Christophe Lefebvre (IUCN-France), Pierre Gubri and Sreyra In (in charge of the project and founders of the association "l'eau pour tous").