For years, Srey Pon, a 53-year-old squatter, has had to spend about 1,500 riel (about $0.37) every two days for water. It doesn’t seem like a huge burden, but she only makes about 5,000 riel every day selling watermelons along the railroad tracks near Boeng Kak lake and needs to support five children.
She, along with hundreds of families squatting in the villages near Boeng Kak, has had to pay water vendors since about 1979. They are among the thousands of Phnom Penh residents who purchase their water from vendors because they do not have access to the water systems that bring water to their villages and homes.
This may change, however, with the recent $21 million rehabilitation and building of two water plants in the city, according to officials.
In one of the first programs of its kind in the city, the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority has offered to connect water pipes to the slum areas of Boeng Kak, which will provide water for bathing, washing clothes, gardening and drinking to some of the most vulnerable populations in the municipality.
While no exact date has been set yet for when the pipes will be installed, Ros Nin, the community leader of the squatter villages near Boeng Kak, said Sunday that the city has brought the offer to the squatters, who have agreed to have the basic water system installed.
For 413,640 riel (about $105)—payable over 10 to 20 months—the city will give the residents access to the much-needed water in the area so they can avoid the high costs associated with the water vendors.
This is part of a larger water rehabilitation program in Phnom Penh. On Dec 16, the city will officially open a newly renovated water plant in Chroy Changva commune that will provide 65,000 cubic meters of water per day to the residents there, said Long Naro, deputy director general of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority.
And in the coming months, the residents in Tuol Kok district, including Srey Pon, will have access to the water systems. By September 2003, a newly constructed, $21 million Phoum Prek water plant will be complete, bringing about 150,000 cubic meters of water to the area, officials said.
“This is a good performance and unusual in Asia,” said Bruce Morrison, an ADB contractor who has spent eight days filming the water projects in Phnom Penh.
One issue arising from the access to the water is whether or not it is safe to drink. While officials have said the water will be treated for viruses and is, in theory, safe to drink, they conceded that the safety standards for the water is not up to international standards.
“The people need quantity rather than quality,” said Ek Sonn Chan, the director general for the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority.
He added that the city cannot afford to bring the water up to international standards, saying that the city would need to increase the amount it spends on the water by 30 percent while it only receives about a 2 percent profit from the water.