Private water distributors must halt their small-time business of selling drinking water door to door, according to a Phnom Penh Municipality directive that takes effect Jan 15.
The distributors have been banned from buying water from the city, and from selling water to villagers.
Sun Kheng Lim, director of the Phnom Penh Water Supply’s Sales Department, said the order is to protect people’s health, as well as the Water Supply’s credibility, since many private distributors buy clean water from the city and then mix it with well water.
The water is most often delivered by truck to nearby rural areas, such as the city’s Dangkao district or Kandal province’s Takhmau district, where it is sold to villagers who do not have access to water wells or the city’s pipe system.
“We just worry about the people’s health,” Sun Kheng Lim said. “We don’t want them to use our water in such a tricky way with the customers. If we allow them to keep doing so, it will affect our reputation.”
Ek Sun Chan, Phnom Penh Water Supply director general, issued the order Dec 24.
Several distributors called the order a type of “dictatorship” that will deprive poor people in remote villages access to clean water.
Water truck driver Mak Samnang said he has never cheated his customers. Buyers easily know about the water’s quality just by looking at it, he said.
Another distributor, Hong Im, said he is not only worried about his business, but also about his family’s ability to find good water.
Two years ago, he lived in one of the squatter communities in the center of Phnom Penh. A series of fires destroyed many of those shanty communities, and authorities relocated families such as Hong Im’s to the rural areas of the city, such as Krang Thnong commune in Dangkao.
An NGO built two water wells for villagers in the commune’s Krang Angkrang village. But one broke down, and the other is insufficient to supply all of the village’s 300 families.
Because of the order, Hong Im said he might have to find water from ponds, “even if it is not safe enough for people.” One way or another, “we have to provide for people,” he said.
Some villagers complained they spend 30,000 riel (about $7.50) per month to buy the privately distributed water—a large expense they would not have in the city, where water is cheap.
Sun Kheng Lim said the city plans to lay more water pipes that will extend access to clean—and less pricey—water to 80 percent of Phnom Penh residents. About 1,000 km of new water pipes should be built by 2007, he said.
In the meantime, he said, villagers in remote areas of the city can request special distributions from Water Supply authorities.