Kunthea, 29, and Houn, 49, used to get all the water they needed from the wells near their homes. But when Cambodia was affected by a severe drought in early 2016, almost all the wells the community depended on dried up. The only place in the area they could still reliably access water? A well built by CARE in 2011.
“Before, the water levels were always low in dry season but we could still get enough for our families from the wells close by,” says Kunthea. “But this year, all the wells near my house stopped working completely. In February and March we could get a little water from them, but in April they all dried up completely.” Kunthea was worried about what this would mean for the health of her children—her youngest daughter is just two years old. “I was worried about my family.”
If no wells at all had worked, they would have had to purchase from a private supplier. “Even if we had money to buy water it was very hard to access,” Houn says. “We would have to tell the water distributors 7-10 days in advance, which would mean waiting for a long time without water for basic things like cooking before the water would arrive. Water for our household would cost around $10.
“Instead, most of the community used the CARE well—we were all amazed this still had water. We tried to use one by one to share. It is a little further from our home, around 1km, but it was great for us that this was still working. Even if we had to wait a long time, there was no cost for this. Around 40 or so families were able to use this.”
Houn and Kunthea said they visited the CARE-built well every day in April and May. “The well was constantly used,” says Kunthea. “We believe it was better constructed than others and would always talk about this.”
The women were also able to take advantage of the separate changing areas built beside the well so that they could bathe in privacy. “Having the private space for changing made me feel much more comfortable. I was able to wash and change at the well, so I only had to take home water for cooking, hygiene and keeping my animals alive.”
The well has brought together the many women who would gather there each day. Houn and Kunthea now know what is most useful for their community and are using their collective voices to ask for this. “We have requested the commune chief to dig deeper wells like this one. We want our community to have more good quality resources like this,” they say.
They are also looking ahead at the possibility of future droughts and making plans to make sure they are less vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate. “To prepare for next year, I plan to use my savings from the Village Savings and Loans Association [a community savings group set up by CARE] to buy bigger containers so I can store rainwater at my house for longer,” says Houn.
In many other parts of Cambodia, government and NGOs were distributing water as the only way to help people to meet their immediate needs. However, no response was needed in Houn and Kunthea’s community. By planning ahead, constructing quality materials which support communities in the long-term and empowering women to make their own plans for what they need, CARE is able to support communities to develop their own resilience to climate change.
CARE's work in this community in 2011 was funded by the Australian Government, which continues to support CARE's work in Koh Kong province through the Local Economic Leaders project.