PHNOM Penh's water treatment plants produce drinkable tap water from the source -
it's just that no-one can guarantee what the quality is going to be like when it
hits the pipes that leave the factories.
The water from the city's two treatment plants meets WHO's standards, according to
Long Naro, manager of the Project Management Unit of the Phnom Penh Water Supply
"The water from the plant is 100 per cent drinkable, but I can't guarantee the
quality 100 meters outside the plant," says Naro.
Below the Kingdom's capital stretches a 300-kilometer underground network of pipes.
Leakage - estimated at 50 per cent - occurs due to decaying pipes, some 100 years
old, and illegal connections.
Some households have independently secured their own water supply by tapping into
water mains. The results are holes and leakages. Some users may smell sewage, Naro
explained, when they turn on their faucets in the early morning because leakage from
sewer pipes seeps into water pipes. Underground, the pipes are parallel to each other.
The authority is replacing, repairing, and cleaning the city's water pipes. Work
has almost been completed laying new pipes in the Daun Penh District, which is bounded
by the Japanese Bridge, Independence Monument, Monivong Blvd. and the Mekong River.
The authority is following a district-by-district plan to repair, clean, or replace
the city's pipes. With World Bank, ADB, Japanese, and French loans and grants, Phnom
Penh should have drinkable water by the year 2000.
Whether or not thirsty residents will be able to drink straight from the tap, as
in Singapore and Japan, will largely depend on whether people continue breaking into
pipes, says Naro.
The problem of illegal connections should be drastically reduced because each Phnom
Penh household should have a connection and water within four years, according to
Naro. By that time, three water treatment plants will produce 245,000 cubic meters
of water per day to serve a projected 1.5 million residents. Currently, the authority
can meet roughly half of the daily water demand of 150 liters per capita. (Per capita
consumption in the United States is 300-400 liters per day.)
There's no such thing as free and clean water, however, and water prices are slated
to increase January 1, 1997. As stipulated in its bank financing agreements, the
authority must become a semi-autonomous institution. It currently costs the authority
900 riel to produce one cubic meter of clean water, which at its current price of
250 riel per cubic meter, covers only maintenance work.
Next year, prices will increase, some by as much as seven-fold. High-volume users
will pay a higher per unit price, thereby subsidizing consumers who use lower amounts.
While some will undoubtedly complain about the increase, higher prices and more traffic
congestion from digging up pipes may be a small price to pay for cleaner tap water.