DROUGHT would have made Mrs Chhom Chanthou’s daily routine almost impossible. Despite living only 90 minutes from Phnom Penh, where water is available with the turn of a tap, Bati district’s Lum Pong commune resident once spent up to nine hours a day walking to collect water. For years, the mother-of-three rose at 4am to arrive at the nearest well before most others.
DROUGHT would have made Mrs Chhom Chanthou’s daily routine almost impossible. Despite living only 90 minutes from Phnom Penh, where water is available with the turn of a tap, Bati district’s Lum Pong commune resident once spent up to nine hours a day walking to collect water. For years, the mother-of-three rose at 4am to arrive at the nearest well before most others. If she left it any later, she might have to queue, or the well may run out completely. She would then carry 15L back by 7am, before setting out on the three hour round trip again after lunch, and again after dinner. Life followed a similar routine for the other women living at the Lum Pong commune, who took on the job of collecting water while their husbands worked.
But in 2012 their lives changed forever, as a pilot project- that has become a model now used globally- lead to the construction of a water storage reservoir.
Cambodians had been identified among the most vulnerable people in the world to climate change. Irregular rainy seasons and prolonged drought could lead to crop losses that would plunge many of the 2 million households that rely on farming for income into debt and poverty. The nation’s infrastructure and adaptive capacities were also ill-prepared for extreme weather events. So in 2012 the Local Climate Adaptation Living Program (LoCAL) was pioneered, through a grant from the Cambodian Climate Change Alliance. It was managed nationally by the National Committee for sub-national Democratic Development Secretariat, through the Local Governments and Climate Change (LGCC) project and with support from the United Nations Capital Development Fund. Three districts made up of 15 communes in Takeo province, including the Lum Pong commune, were chosen by LGCC for the launch. The aim was for it to support projects that would, for one of the first times worldwide, support climate change adaption through local government planning.
The program saw district administrators and communes councilors come together to develop a climate change adaptation strategy. This grassroots input meant it was quickly identified that if drought became more frequent in the Lum Pong commune the struggle to source water would only become more difficult. So as part of their strategy, which was then integrated as part of the commune’s overall development plan, it was suggested a water reservoir be built. After a series of assessments, the commune secured a share of a grant to build this reservoir.
This grant was then integrated into the commune council’s budget. This meant that not only was a water reservoir built, but resilience and trust was built into these relatively new commune budgeting systems by extension. The commune also had to meet a set of conditions, to ensure the strategy was carried out as planned. This included using specific account codes, procurement processes and accountability processes. Local government also had to co-finance part of the project. The idea was to create a climate change strategy that could be implemented by a local government, through a local government system with a direct impact on the local community.
Now, five years on, Mrs Chhom Chanthou still can’t stop smiling as she talks about the 60m X 34m reservoir, which stores water only a couple of hundred meters from her village. It’s given her nine hours back each day, which she’s used to smart a small business, building brooms to sell at the nearby market. Not only do the commune residents now have ample water for washing, drinking and cooking, but they can irrigate rice crops during dry months and sustain small gardens. The extra money generated, through the small businesses and better crops, adds to the better quality of life the villagers now enjoy.
Asked if she’s ever set out on the three hour walk to the well since the reservoir was built, Mrs Chhom Chanthou laughs and shakes her head: ‘’No, never”.
Another resident, 71-year-old Mr. Neum Ponn echoes his neighbor’s delight. He’s animated as he described the way life has changed for the commune residents since the water reservoir was built, and his face regularly splits into an ear-to-ear smile.
“All residents are so extremely happy. Especially the woman, they are more happy than the man, because they don’t need to walk to collect water.’’
Since the reservoir’s construction the Bati district received additional, performance based grants into its regular budget. These further opportunities for funding ensured better performance is rewarded- with more money. Again, the Bati district and communes, including the Lum Pong commune, decided how to best spend these funds. However, additional physical infrastructure projects also required co-financing from the regular budget. This meant communes also invested in their future. It also meant residents were continually encouraged to think about how they could best insulate themselves against the effects of climate change, which built awareness about the subject locally. The Lum Pong commune has since used this model to fund an additional eight water reservoirs. In 2017, they plan to build two more.
But they’ve also invested their time into the upkeep of these new assets. The commune citizens formed a maintenance group, who work to ensure the reservoirs stay clean and undamaged. They built a stairway leading to the water’s edge on the original pond. Mr Neum Ponn is hoping in the future they will be able to build a small wall around the reservoir, to keep out animals and small children.
It’s this grassroots level ownership many attribute to the success of the program.
Now, NCDDS has partnered with LoCAL, through the Local Governments and Climate Change project, to now work with 61 communes within eight districts, with support from the Swedish International Development Agency. This has seen a range of climate change mitigating infrastructure built, from flood-resilient roads to irrigation systems. It has also raised awareness of climate change throughout these communities. Plans are in place for the program to shortly roll out across the rest Cambodia.