In Cambodia, the main problem is access to clean water,” says Mao Sang, branch director for the Cambodian Red Cross in Prey Veng.
Mao Sang runs a project manufacturing ceramic water filters in the village of Salong, some 28 kilometres from the provincial capital of Prey Veng. He believes his project can help to make lack of access to clean water a thing of the past.
“Our filters can help families to be healthy,” he says. “We want every family in every village to have our filters.”
The ceramic water filters are made from mixing local clay with small husks of rice. Baked in a kiln, the husks burn away leaving tiny perforations through which the water filters. The clay pots are then lined with silver which helps remove all the bacteria.
“It kills 100% of bacteria,” assures Mao Sang.
Filtering at a rate of two to three litres per day, the pots can hold up to 15 litres of clean water. They also last.
“You can use the pots for three years, but we advise customers to renew them every two years,” says Mao Sang.
Established by the World Bank and the United States Red Cross in 2004, the project has been self-financing since the agencies withdrew their support in mid-2005, according to Mao Sang. “We have made a lot of progress since then,” he says. “At first we had three kilns and now we have 11.” The project also employs up to 28 villagers, depending upon seasonal productivity. More pots are made in the dry season than wet.
Sales are increasing each year. In 2010, the Cambodian Red Cross sold 26,000 water filters to NGOs, schools and families across the country. This year, Mao Sang hopes to sell 30,000. This compares with only 800 the year the project started.
“People now know the importance of the filter,” says Mao Sang. “They understand it is useful for clean water.”
Despite the increase in sales, the small factory has the capacity to increase productivity further to up to 60,000 filters each year. Mao Sang hopes to increase sales through making the filters more affordable to the poor.
“We are studying how to reduce the cost in order to make it available to all families,” he says. Currently the filters cost US$9.50.
Mao Sang views the water filters as part of the wider issue of the benefits of water purification.
“We have to get the message across about the importance of clean water,” he says. “Our filters eliminate diarrhoea and the spread of disease. They also reduce the presence of arsenic in water.”
TRANSLATION RANN REUY