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
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 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
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
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.