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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Problems lie in the pipes

Problems lie in the pipes

Treated water from the rotting Phnom Penh municipal system can be contaminated just

100 meters from the pumping station because the pipes are fractured.

So says Roland Kortas who until recently worked with UNDP. Last year, UNDP and the

World Bank took over responsibility for the city's water from Oxfam.

His view is backed up by the deputy director of the pumping station.

"The water supply in Phnom Penh is not 100 percent safe because of an inadequate

supply of chemicals," said Sem Bun Heng.

The lack of technical expertise and professionalism previously made it difficult

to maintain or convert the system and the station has only recently been repairing

the pipe network.

Health department officer Dr Chea Chhay says just 300 meters from his office there

is a children's hospital without water.

"They ask me to drill," he said and he will. "We don't know where

the pipes are. Or, if we find the pipes, we don't know where the leak is."

Sometimes there is no money to buy chemicals to treat the water. Adding to the problems,

the galvanized iron pipes leak and run along the same trenches as leaking sewage

pipes.

"There is a problem with pressure ," said Dr Chea. "If you increase

it the small holes can become large holes and you lose more water and make the situation

worse."

He estimates that 16 percent of Phnom Penh residents have access to potable water,

the figure for the provinces is 18 percent.

"Those living near the Mekong can boil water to drink but in other areas the

water can contain a high level of sediment," he said.

The doctor 's plan for improving Phnom Penh's water supply involves abandoning the

defunct municipal supply network, which fails to bring water to much of the suburbs,

and instead ringing the city with wells.

Urgent action is needed to tackle the water-borne diseases of diarrohea, cholera

and typhoid.

Cholera is a recurring problem which was worsened by the U.S. embargo during the

1980s when spare-parts for water pumps and technical help was denied.

Currently, Dr Chea is busy organizing well-drilling teams to cope with cholera outbreaks

near Battambang and Kampot.

Money, of course, is holding back efforts to control the disease.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is that gradually funding is forthcoming.

Over the last two years France has helped the capital with repairs to the tanks and

the water station, and earlier this year the Japanese International Cooperation Agency

(JICA) started surveying the water needs of the city with a view to designing a new

system.

(Additional reporting by Mang Channo)

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