How climate change is affecting access to clean water in Cambodia

3 min read
Lim walks to collect water from a milky-looking pond
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

Communities throughout Cambodia are feeling the effects of climate change, particularly when it comes to their access to clean water.

Cambodia is the fourth highest country in the world at risk of flood exposure where that flooding causes contamination of water sources, water borne diseases, and unsafe sanitation situations. But in other areas, such as Samaki Meanchey, drought is drying out community water sources.

Lim is living in one of these communities. She is 75 years old and lives in a small house made of wood and tin, where she cares for her eight-month-old great-granddaughter.  She lives in an area that is dry and drought ridden, and where many of the surface water wells have dried up. Lim has little choice but to collect milky-coloured water from community ponds. It impacts her health and her ability to earn an income, perpetuating this cycle of poverty and insecurity that is experienced by so many vulnerable Cambodians like Lim.

The milky pond where Lim is forced to collect water
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

The Royal Government of Cambodia’s National Action Plan aims to ensure every Cambodian has access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2025. To achieve this, we need to be building resilience against climate change, and we have been working with districts and communities in Cambodia to do just that.

Strengthening districts

WaterAid have been working together with experts, to complete a study on water resource management and collected information in Lim’s local district in order to best understand how management of water and climate resilience are linked. The study included participation from over 100 stakeholders from different levels of government as well as piped water organisations and other relevant institutions.

WaterAid also helped to develop a gender sensitive and inclusive water resource management plan, which was then used in the Commune and District level Investment Plans to ensure the needs of women and the disabled are being met. This was a great achievement to increase local responsibility and to ensure marginalised groups are included in water resource management.

Water resource management planning between stakeholders

Strengthening communities

It is known that holistic water resource management and water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) planning requires knowledge and skill building at the community level, including supporting communities to be involved in planning and decision making. Marginalised groups including women, people with disabilities, and elderly people face many more challenges when it comes to accessing clean water and sanitation, and have limited opportunities to participate in community level decision making, as seen in the case of Lim and her great-granddaughter.

To tackle this issue, WaterAid recently undertook community engagement research to develop guidelines on how to best engage with communities and build awareness around climate change. The activities within the guidelines encourage community members to consider who decides to do what during climate events, identify climate risks to their water resources, and how these impact people differently. The activities developed through this project are designed to be tailored to each community context and incorporated across different stages of a project cycle.

As the threat of climate change intensifies, access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene will become increasingly challenging for vulnerable members of communities in Cambodia and throughout the world. That is why climate resilience and water resource management are key focus areas in WaterAid’s goal to bring clean water to everyone, everywhere.

As for Lim, the plan is to work with the provincial government’s rural water supply department to train staff in planning for climate resilient WASH to increase the water supply. Since the groundwater levels have been decreasing year on year, the government is looking to dig deeper wells for people to access water from and also work with the department of industry to expand piped water out to this community.

Lim, 75,  sits with her great-granddaughter Sreynich
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari