Access to clean drinking water has been an issue in developing countries throughout the world. In a country where 31 per cent of the rural population does not have access to clean drinking water, bottled water has become an increasingly high valued commercial product billed as having a spotless reputation.
Although the Ministry of Commerce could not provide a definitive number of trademarked brands, almost all of Cambodia’s water bottling companies siphon unprocessed water from local rivers or receive treated water from the Phnom Penh Water Authority.
However, even treated water can still run the risk of contamination. The Cambodian-owned Eurotech brand faced recent contamination challenges in March due to malfunctioning machinery.
The company has since recalled all of its contaminated products and is currently in the process of having its water tested through the Pasteur Institute, according to Jerry Thai, deputy director of Eurotech Import Export Company Ltd.
“This was a machine issue and it leaked out some dirt that did not show up during the filling process. It was not visible,” he said. “Later on you can see the [contamination], but during the time of production, you couldn’t.”
Although he said that the majority of the contaminated bottles did not make it outside the factory, the ones that did were immediately brought back to the factory.
Eurotech obtains its water from Phnom Penh Water Authority. The water is treated and filtered through reverse osmosis, and is certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
However, the water provided to the city from the Phnom Penh Water Authority is already clean enough for people to drink, claims the utility company.
“If you compare my water to the bottled water, I still think that some is lower quality,” said Ma Noravin, director of production and distribution for Phnom Penh Water Authority.
“We have a process and method to treat water. We check our water quality three times a day to see if it has changed. Additionally, we take 70 samples from customers’ houses a week to check for purity,” he said.
The water provided to Phnom Penh and nearby towns, such as Takhmao, is pumped from the Sap, Bassac, and Mekong rivers. It is then treated with chlorine and polyaluminium chloride. The filtering process is based on national water standards and WHO standards used by the European Union and the United States of America.
While the majority of bottling companies receive its water from Phnom Penh Water Authority, there are some companies that have looked further afield and who have to take more preventative measures.
Kulara Water Co Ltd is currently the only distributor of mineral water in Cambodia. The company’s Eau Kulen branded water is filtered through sandstone and collected from the foot of Kulen Mountain located in the Banteay Srei district of Siem Reap province.
“For us there is no competition because we are in a different market,” said Jacques Marcille, managing director of Kulara Water Co Ltd. While he said that the company brands itself as selling natural mineral water, it does have to compete with expensive imports like Evian and Vital.
Like many of the other bottled water distributors in Cambodia, Eau Kulen is certified by international Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards. However, Marcille claims that when it comes to reducing the risk of contamination, the core issue revolves around bottling.
“Sometimes bottles [for other brands] are made in a factory far from the bottling plant and during transport, picks up contaminants,” he said. “We make the bottles in the bottling plant itself.”
Marcille also argued that while HACCP certifies that a factory’s machinery is clean, it does not mean that employees practice international standards.
“The best [water quality] control is to routinely do the process yourself,” he said, adding that is the best way to ensure that the entire process remains clean.