Cambodia and the Struggle for Clean Water
Posted on May 14, 2008
Dr. Kevin Curry
Faculty and Staff
, biology professor and chairman of the department, recently returned from a second trip to Cambodia, where he is involved with a program aimed at delivering clean drinking water to some of that nation's neediest people.
Years ago, doctors in the city of Siem Reap began seeing a large increase in the number of children from the surrounding villages suffering the effects of water-borne diseases. Many were desperately ill; others died. It was clear that one cause was a lack of education in the region around the topic of sanitation, as well as in the nearby floating villages that sit on the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest body of water in Southeast Asia. This, combined with the fact that the local residents use the same water sources for both waste disposal and drinking, was adding up to a serious problem..
"The need for simple sanitation education there is huge," Dr. Curry said.
Taking note of this, of all people, were the members of the Middletown, R.I., Rotary Club, who decided they would try to do something to help the situation. The idea was put forth to provide inexpensive water-filtering systems for the home and water-quality testing in the area, using a grassroots organization to implement the plan and educate the local people about sanitation.
That was two years ago. Dr. Curry became involved last year, after BSC's former director of the Office of Grants and Sponsored Projects, Fran Jeffries
, put him in touch with the folks in Middletown. Dr. Curry runs the college's Watershed Access Lab. Since then, he has been working with the Rotary members and researchers from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, to establish a water-quality-testing lab in Siem Reap City.
Last July, Dr. Curry traveled to Cambodia to contribute his expertise to the project; he made a return trip in March. In this short span of time, he and others involved in the project have already seen the results of their efforts. Today there are 500 filters in place, and the lab is up and running. Water from these village homes is tested at the lab, and results show that 90 to 98 percent of the bacteria is being removed.
While it's too early to measure the medical effects of the measures, anecdotally, things are getting better.
"They're not getting sick as much, so they're making the connection that the filters are a good thing," Dr. Curry said.
He hopes to find the funding to return to Cambodia early next year to do more work on the project. Dr. Curry would like to see the filter program expand to the surrounding floating villages, which are traditionally harder to reach with such initiatives.
Dr. Curry is exploring future possibilities for the program, including a long-term collaboration with the University of Victoria, and he hopes to take some BSC students on an upcoming trip as a learning and service opportunity.
A 2007 CART Faculty Librarian Research Grant as well as the college's Canadian Studies Program have both provided funding for his work to date on the project.
The work of Dr. Curry and his partners has already improved the lives of many people in the villages around Siem Reap City. But he has gained quite a bit himself, he said.
"It's been a tremendous experience for me working with these people," he said. "It's all about making a real difference." (John Winters, Office of Institutional Communications)