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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wells point way from past problems

Wells point way from past problems

The Kingdom of Angkor lived and died by its water system and for many people today

water is still a matter of life and death.

Wells are the best and cheapest way to provide safe water and Cambodia needs a lot

more.

Oxfam's Water Resources Coordinator Jeremy Ockleford says environmental problems

need to be addressed to avoid repeating mistakes made in well programs in other countries.

The danger is in damaging the surrounding environment by extracting too much water.

"It happened in Bangladesh, where the water table lowered," said Ockleford.

In Cambodia he advises "a national strategy" based on information about

the environment.

The Ministry of Health believes 7,500 wells were dug over the last ten years, leaving

a estimated shortfall of 35,000.

Now the ministry, along with Oxfam and UNICEF, is trying to improve on the numbers.

According to Dr Chea Chhay, who works for the health department, low morale among

workers is hampering digging.

"Staff get paid very low wages and often don't get paid at all, so they have

to do other things to live," he said.

In a recent report, UNICEF cites "inadequate coordination and cooperation"

as hindering water supply to rural areas.

The agency is trying a new approach using public health awareness with the belief

that safe water alone is not enough and needs to be linked with "hygiene education

and sanitation".

Even where wells are provided people may continue to drink from contaminated water

sources unless they are instructed in hygiene, as the water from wells often tastes

unpleasantly of iron.

UNICEF advises people to boil all drinking water but this is contradicted by Oxfam's

Jeremy Ockelford.

He says boiling water damages the environment as it adds to deforestation, already

a big problem in Cambodia.

"It takes so much fuel - half a kilogram of fire wood - to boil one liter of

water," he said.

"Well water is safe for drinking when it comes out of the ground. The job of

education is to keep it safe.

"There is a danger of contamination if people use their own containers, but

they learn to use the bucket provided," he said.

UNICEF 's report says the average cost per well is $450 which covers well drilling,

hand pump and a platform.

This rises to $1,200 when mechanical rigs are used but does not include logistics

and program support costs.

Maintenance costs are low with average expenditure at about $25 a year each.

Training in construction and maintenance is based on the Ministry of Health's national

policy on personnel.

UNICEF uses on-site training to extend or upgrade technical skills such as manual

drilling techniques and well construction.

The agency also runs a six-month course in machinery, electrics, welding, and repair

at Russey Keo technical training college.

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