Monday, 28 September 2009

A bit on my work in resettled communities

When I arrived in Cambodia just over a month ago, one of the first things I set about doing was selecting study sites.  When I began doing research into the peri-urban areas around Phnom Penh a number of months back, my interest was piqued by the extensive resettlement programs that the government has been undertaking.  In the end, I chose two such resettled communities as the basis for my study.

Land tenure in Phnom Penh is complicated.  A document put out by the United Nations Human Settlements Program entitled “The Challenge with Slums” (2003), presents a good summary of the situation. 

There is no clear distinction between legal and illegal occupancy/ownership.  As a result of this lack of clear tenure rights, eviction is a constant threat to the majority of Phnom Penh’s low income settlers.  Most of these residents are officially considered squatters, although ‘…at least 75% consider themselves owners of the plot that they purchased from the local authorities or previous owner, who themselves may not have had ownership rights,” (UN, 2003).  In recent years, entire communities have faced eviction – often violently and without compensation or support – by the Municipality of Phnom Penh (UN, 2003).  These evictions are particularly common with more centrally located settlements which have been cleared away to make way for commercial development.  As a result, “…while squatter settlements developed primarily in the city centre until 1998, recent massive relocation programs have contributed to establishing peri-urban zones of poverty,” (UN, 2003).

 Photo 1: A central squatter community in a dilapidated building, slated for evictions (so I’m told – I haven’t investigated the matter further)

Many of the former slum communities have the primary advantage of location – residents have relatively easy access to the city for work.  Relegated to areas far away from the city, many resettled individuals suddenly find themselves with no source of income. 

One of my study communities was evicted earlier this year.  The government couldn’t find a suitable location to move the residents to, so they sought help from an NGO.  This NGO contacted a pastor who owns land just outside of the city.  The pastor agreed to let the community have a parcel of land.  Eighty-three households were moved from a settlement in central Phnom Penh to this location out in the country.    
Photo 2:  House in one of my study sites

Photo 3: Source of surface water in the community.  It was once considered a usable source of water (after treatment by filtering or boiling) but since the new residents moved in, it has become so heavily contaminated that no one uses it.

Back in Phnom Penh, most of the community members had access to piped water in their homes.  During the rainy season, nearly all households harvest rainwater for use in their homes.  However, few people can afford storage vessels large enough to make rainwater last more than a few days after rainfall.  So, for the long dry season, they must choose between heavily contaminated surface water, arsenic contaminated shallow well water, and expensive bottled water.  So, their water supply situation has, for the most part, declined substantially. 

Photo 4: Bucket used for harvesting rainwater

Photo 5: View of one of my study sites

The other community I am working in was relocated several years ago.  The land the community is on now floods, since a government agency blocked the drainage system.  The households there are more established and wealthier – as evidenced by larger houses and rainwater harvesting systems with significant capacity (enough to last several weeks into the dry season).   When rainwater is not an option, the majority of residents must purchase water from a vendor who brings a tanker truck of water to the community.  There are 2 deep wells present, but no one dares to use it for drinking – while past water testing (I do not have my own data on this yet) has shown that the wells produce water safe for human consumption, elevated manganese and iron levels make rice change colour when being cooked, causing residents to be very suspicious of the quality of the water.    

Photo 6: Flooding in the community

Photo 7: Rainwater harvesting jars.  The water is routed from the gutters to the jars using a hose (you can see a pop bottle being used to funnel water from the gutter into the hose, which is directed into one of the jars)

Photo 8: Deep well.  Due to high iron and manganese levels, people only use this well for bathing and clothes washing water.

I will be spending a lot of time in these two communities over the next few months.  More on what I’m actually doing there in a future post!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Settling in . . .

Two weeks have passed since I arrived in Cambodia. Two weeks down, only 14 left to go. I’m here doing the field work component of my thesis research for me Masters degree in Water Resources Engineering at the University of Guelph.

So much to do, so little time to do it in…

My first couple of weeks here have been spent getting settled in, and getting things going with my research program. Things have gone well on both fronts!

My work is based out of a local NGO here called Resource Development International Cambodia. The two facets of the organization that I am most familiar with are the ceramic water filter factory and the water quality lab. RDI runs the largest ceramic water filter factory in the country. RDI also has one of the best equipped water quality labs in Cambodia – one of the reasons that has brought me here to work with them.

Photo 1: View from my room at RDI

Photo 2: My first home here was a shipping container at RDI. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds …

RDIC is located just out of Phnom Penh, in the neighboring province of Kandal. I am living in Phnom Penh, approx. a 35 minute drive away.

It was a major relief when I found myself feeling at home in the city almost right away. It is a hectic and a little rough around the edges, but after a year in the sleepy little city of Guelph (and a year before that spent in the even sleepier city of Lilongwe), it is a welcomed change of pace. The streets are busy with motor bikes flying from every direction (rules of the road don’t seem to apply to them…), food carts of all sorts (from noodles to waffles!), monks wandering in and out of wats (temples), families playing badminton . . . such energy!

Photo 3: Need to take some photos of the city . . . For now, all I have this photo of some rooftops

My house hunting experience was an absolute joy, compared to the ordeal I went through in Malawi. I hit the pavement in an area of town I was interested in living in, and within a couple hours, I had successfully found myself a great little apartment.

Photo 4: Outside view of my apartment. I’m on the 3rd floor.

Photo 5: My awesome patio

I live in the neighbourhood of O’Russei. I very much enjoy it.

I am a 5 minute walk from the biggest, busiest, and most disorienting market I have ever had the pleasure of getting lost in. My little bit of Khmer came in handy when I explored it last weekend to find some household items to make my little apartment a little more homey. You can find just about anything in that market, from electrical supplies, to salted fish, to gemstones, to suspicious North Face backpacks.

As I type this, there is something that sounds like a choir practice going on in a building across the street. I hear the honk of motorbikes whipping past and children laughing. I am actually on a relatively quiet street for the area as I have a bit of a buffer between the many restaurants and bars in the surrounding streets, so I sleep soundly in relative silence.

I am working on learning Khmer. I am well aware of my (limited) capacity to pick up new languages, but I know how important it is for me to learn as much as I can! I am taking lessons when I get the chance, offered by an audio engineer at RDI. He is a good teacher, and I am picking some up.

Khmer is not a terribly complicated language, however, the pronunciation is a major challenge for me. For example, in my lesson today we spent a few long minutes going over the difference between “p” and “pb,” - Apparently, I kept saying “pbaan” as opposed to “baan.” My Canadian ears could only barely tell the difference . . . I have never before had to focus so intently on how we make the sounds when we do when we speak. How do we make a “p” sound vs. a “b” sound? How do I make something in between: “pb”?? I end up completely tongue tied by the end of a lesson.

Things have been moving along, research wise. I won’t go into many specifics here, but I will talk a bit about the general area of interest, being water supply and sanitation in resettlement areas around Phnom Penh. My first steps have been to scope out determine my study site locations. I've had some success, and will hopefully start ramping things up next week!

Photo 6: Scoping out a potential study site

Photo 7: Another study site.

More on that in the next installment…