Cambodia fact finding trip

In December I was fortunate enough to travel to Cambodia after the Kuala Lumpur IWA conference.  It was a very refreshing and inspiring visit to a country on the move!  I really enjoyed the Cambodian people who I found to be polite and relaxed - and a rather respectful indifference to foreigners which made you feel like you fitted in instantly (at street level).  The food was very very good and the level and pace of development in the capital Phnom Penh was impressive to say the least.

Of course I'm generalising and the impact of my findings must be carried like a grain of salt as they are based on my very brief 1 week experience in the capital Phnom Penh.

During my trip I managed to catch up with two organisations working on WASH related programs.  IDE - International Development Enterprises have being working on developing and implementing sanitation business models focusing on the supply chain.  They have achieved great success with establishing affordable technology and routes for the knowledge of construction to be expanded country wide, and for local entrepreneurs to establish their own sanitation supply business.  Once a critical mass was acheived (through no doubt a lot of hard intensive field work) they are seeing natural replication and innovation of such businesses across Cambodia.  The technology is essentially concrete rings to provide a stable pit for waste storage, and affordable squat plates.  It can be done very cheaply for <$10.  My concerns with such simple and one-dimensional technology is that it is not at all suitable for high aquifer locations where direct injection of shit into water table will cause serious environmental and health impacts.  IDE has a very business orientated approach to their community interventions and the way they operate their NGO.  I believe they are a forerunner in this field and I have great admiration for their organisational history and current directions - though I was unable to establish their competition vs collaboration ethos.  Their team was very busy during my visit and I thank Tamara Baker for her time.
IDE was also involved with the establishment of a very new and impressive filter pot factory.  The factory was co-funded by a Gates Grant from my understanding.  The factory was clean, well designed and with a practical selection of relatively affordable machinery.  If anything the whole structure and layout was over-engineered - resulting in a rather expensive building structure.  I was met by a very friendly and accommodating Cambodian Manager - Mr Sarath.  He explained in detail all of their production methodologies and lessons learnt.  IDE commissioned a team of designers to provide a very fancy receptacle to house the filter pot.  It is rather space age looking and would make an impressive appliance feature in any modern kitchen - perhaps too modern and costly however for an average Cambodian to afford.  The cost of the filter is around $3, however the  receptacle costs around $12.  Together they are sold for around $20.  Unfortunately they need to make around 7000 filters a month to break even and they are currently producing around 2000 due to issues with production - problems drying the clay prior to firing.  There are also issues with arsenic in the clay - so they flush the fired filters for 24 hours to purge the arsenic from the clay - a considerable amount of single use water.  This water was going out the back fence and likely contaminating an arsenic free shallow aquifer with arsenic!  I see they are also jumping on the carbon credit band wagon - which I am yet to be convinced that such deals are nothing more than dodgy.  Considering that not many people boil water and the factory uses tonnes of wood for firing the kilns and also diesel for running generators to operate the machinery - anyway I trust they have the correct baseline calculations and audits in place.  For pictures of the filter and factory website follow below link:

My next institutional visit was to the RDIC - Resource Development International - Cambodia.  I was warmly welcomed by John Burnette who with his wife Vicki have been involved with RDIC for nearly a decade and volunteered full time in Cambodia for the last 6 years.  John was very knowledgeable on all aspects of RDIC operations and he was very gracious with his time with me.  RDIC was founded by Mickey Sampson who was an instrumental pioneer of the development of filter pots.  From what I can understand Mickey was a entrepreneurial genius who established a filter pot factor and a million other side projects and built incredible momentum in a very short time.  Tragically he passed away unexpectedly just as RDIC was blossoming.  I thought MSABI was trying to do too many activities - but RDIC are about 10 years ahead with a crazy number of irons in the fire.  They operate the national water quality and microbiological laboratory, direct a very successful community health media program - think muppets crossed with seasame st teaching about water, health and hygiene.  This program is broadcast on national TV.  They also have a filter pot factory, open well digging and rope pumps, manufacture concrete water tanks, produce soap and run community outreach health interventions with a team of nurses.  It is very impressive - a large operation - and a little chaotic.  When you are doing too much efficiency can be lost and finding/building local human resources is a challenge.  The organisation has a very traditional approach of serving the community - get the interventions to the community without strong emphasis on community buy in or commitment.  Almost all filters are distributed for free or sold to other NGOs.  In contrast, MSABI is very much more pushing strongly towards developing sustainable service delivery business models owned and operated by local community members.  However, our approach to integrated interventions, low-tech solutions, open sharing and learning are very similar.  RDIC is a progressive NGO - though in very different ways to IDE.  I must say I really liked the open, frank and warm feel of the RDIC team and look forward to tracking their progress and hopefully collaborating in the future.

Great guy - John Burnette from RDIC - a volunteer lifer!

Machinery at the RDIC factory - this unit extrudes clay blocks

Pressed pots dry on racks prior to firing.  The rack have wheels and can be easily moved around the factory floor.

Mahi kiln in action.  RDIC fires up to 200 pots a day.  As a comparison, MSABI plans to commence production of 300 pots per month this year.  We are trying to adopt a low-cost low-tech approach, though there is a very fine recipe between success and failure.  There was a lot of discussion between myself and John on lessons learnt and paths moving forward.  If we prove our 300 per month concept, then I can see potential for establishing a filter pot factory in Ifakara - though to match our organisational strategy we would need to satisfy a commercial business model, with the factory likely owned and operated by a local business entrepreneur.  We would consider an MSABI own/operate model with proceed recycled to drive our community interventions - though that would require a lot of energy and management work.

The pots are soaked to remove arsenic entrained in the clay and undertake flow rate tests - for identification of out of spec pots.  

This is an example rope pump fitted for an open well.  RDIC has come up with a number of innovative improvements to this model.  All pumps are now produced by an external local contractor.

RDIC builds these impressive globe water tanks.

This is a 12V entertainment audio-visual system.  It is designed for putting on the back of a motorbike or bicycle and providing educational information to remote villages.

Meet a Cambodian Muppet.

RDIC uses a simple receptacle design that costs $7.  The total sale price for their filter and receptacle product is $12.  It was a real treat to visit 2 filter pot factories - the home of scaled production.  I had read so much information and studied their production manuals - and we have done our best to replicate in Tanzania with a low tech approach.

RDIC staff apply silver nitrate to fired pots.