Objective 100%
access to drinking water
people affected
Cambodia is facing a two-fold challenge: the government has committed to ensuring access to drinking water for its entire population by 2025, but the country lacks qualified labor in the water and sanitation sector. To meet this demand in the job market, the Institute of Technology of Cambodia launched a master’s program in October 2018 to train the engineers of tomorrow in this field.

With its lush landscapes and tropical forests, Cambodia is thought of as a country where water is plentiful... And yet. Although access to water has improved in recent decades, rising from 52% in 2000 to 75% of the population in 2015, the increase masks many disparities. Unlike in the capital city of Phnom Penh, where 85% of residents have access to drinking water, Cambodia’s secondary cities suffer from a lack of infrastructures for drinking water and sanitation. At the same time, they are experiencing strong demographic growth that is driving up the need for drinking water while causing growing pollution in the urban environment through untreated discharge of wastewater into the natural environment.

In parallel, the Cambodian government has set a target of providing its entire population with access to drinking water by 2025. To achieve this goal, Cambodia will need to invest in infrastructures, but that will not be enough. To provide “safely managed” drinking water services, as called for in the Sustainable Development Goals, it will also need to invest in human resources to have enough qualified technicians and engineers to staff the operators of these essential public services.

The Water and Sanitation in Urban Areas Engineering Master launched in October 2018 at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, is designed to train Cambodia’s future engineers in the fields of water management, wastewater treatment, and sanitation systems. Ultimately, it aims to improve the daily life of thousands of people in urban areas by supplying cities with highly qualified labor to meet the challenges of urban and rural water management. AFD and the European Union are funding the program through a delegated grant worth more than €1 million.

engineers in cambodia
training in Cambodia engineering class
A personalized master’s
“This new master’s program is designed to meet the challenges of the water sector and produce qualified labor to address these issues,” explains Dr. Ty Boreborey, professor of chemical and food engineering at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia. The chemical and food engineering department had previously offered a master’s with classes on water management, but it was not comprehensive enough to meet the needs of the job market. Now, the new master’s program is integrated with a new research unit focused on water and environment that addresses topics related to civil, chemical, and environmental engineering. It brings together researchers and scientists from many different backgrounds and countries (Cambodia, France, Japan, and other ASEAN countries).

“This program will help solve water-related problems within the country by training experts in the field, through a program specifically designed to meet the needs of employers,” she enthuses.

In her class, students learn the basics of laboratory work and water treatment. “This is the basic class they need to be able to use sanitation techniques,” she explains. The students also conduct experiments and run case studies, so that they can be ready to walk onto a job immediately after graduating.
student in engineering training in cambodia
Thoung Lieang, confident about her career prospects
At 23 years old, Thoung Lieang has long dreamed of becoming a water and sanitation engineer. In her hometown, water came from a well, “but it had a strange odor,” she recalls. Her family was not connected to the local water network until she was 13. This experience aroused her curiosity and made her want to learn more about potential solutions to improve access to drinking water in secondary cities.

With a degree in water and sanitation engineering under her belt, Lieang knows that it will be easy for her to find a job. “In addition to specialized knowledge in water engineering, law, and project creation, we also learn non-technical subjects, such as management,” she explains, adding, “I have no doubt that this master’s will help me find a job easily!”
Hout Syradeth, successful retraining
Before enrolling in the master’s program, Hout Syradeth worked at the Ministry for the Environment. When she began to notice the growing need for engineers to meet the challenges of water management in Cambodia, she decided to leave her job and get specialized. Like Lieng, Syradeth had personal experience with the consequences of a lack of access to water in the secondary cities. She grew up in Kampong Cham Province, where her family and neighbors drew water from the river and used a sanitation technique that was cursory at best: “They just left the water in containers until it settled,” explains Syradeth, now 30 years old. Not having access to water can prove fatal: “Many children under the age of 5 die of diarrhea each year after drinking unsafe water,” she adds.

These are the issues that the young woman hopes to help solve with her new career choice. With her professional experience and the specialized knowledge of the water sector she acquired during the master’s, she does not expect to have any trouble finding her next job. Her decision has also inspired her colleagues: “They agree that it’s a very important issue,” she says, “and some are thinking of applying to the master’s program next year.”
Careers that aren’t just for men

Although the engineering sector in Cambodia is male-dominated, most students enrolled in the Master’s in Water and Sanitation Engineering are women. This is a point of pride for Boreborey: “There are more women than men in my class,” she says. “I think people are finally realizing that engineering is not just for men and that women are just as competent in these careers.”  Meanwhile, to encourage women to apply, the Institute of Technology of Cambodia has included gender as among the criteria used when evaluating scholarship applications, which provide financial support to 30 students in the program.

Beyond the master’s

This master’s is part of a broader project aimed at improving the living environment and conditions for people in four of Cambodia’s largest provincial cities: Battambang, Kampong Cham, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Other improvements include increasing the capacity for sanitizing water and producing drinking water, expanding the corresponding networks, and resolving the long-term financial logistics of these services.

To this end, two drinking water production plants are planned in Battambang and Kampong Cham, which will allow for an additional 209,000 people to be connected to the network. In the provinces of Battambang and Sihanoukville, the focus is on sanitation, with an increase in treatment capacity of 25,000 m3/day, benefiting an additional 90,000 people. Finally, the project aims to improve national and local governance in the sanitation sector (institutional and managerial capacity) and educate the population about the benefits of sanitation.


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