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.
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.
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.