Putting innovation for challenging environments on the agenda in Cambodia

Relieving sanitation issues in developing countries requires getting innovation on the agenda for challenging environments, according to the AWA Young Water Professional of the Year 2015. 

Gabrielle McGill discussed a recent Engineers Without Borders (EWB) volunteer project at last weeks' YWP Conference, pushing the case for a more holistic focus on Cambodia's challenging water environment. 

“By the year 2025, the Cambodian Government wants to achieve 100% sanitation coverage. In order for the Cambodian Government to achieve this, they need to face the challenging environments gap,” McGill said.

“There are lots of different things that could be challenging within a Cambodian context, but we were really looking at the physical elements. We were looking at floating communities, communities that are seasonally flooded, coastal communities, communities with high ground water and riverine communities.”

“What’s common about all of these challenging communities is that a traditional pit latrine is not going to work in most of these situations,” she said. 

McGill explained that Cambodia's sanitation challenge stems largely from flooding in the wet season, which affects vast areas of the country for six months of the year.

Pit latrines, which are a cost-effective and low-maintenance option in the dry season, become a sanitation difficulty when water communities become flooded. 

“Engineers Without Borders had all of these volunteers and organisations that encountered this problem in different ways,” McGill says.

While many volunteers and organisations have worked to address water sanitation in Cambodia, McGill said that EWB's aim under this project was to put innovation for challenging water environments on the broader agenda, raising awareness for the root cause of the problem. 

“The things that have been implemented are not having the desired effect, they aren’t changing people’s behaviour,” McGill said.

“What they Engineers Without Borders really wanted was to create an open platform for collaboration and innovation. They wanted people to come together and talk about why sanitation in challenging environments was the issue.

“We realised that to have any impact, we needed to start talking to other players. This feeds in really well with the idea of collaboration, and realising that there are different strengths and different people, and future stakeholders.

“The conclusion that I have is that there is still a long way to go, but that these people are worth servicing. This is not just an issue that affects Cambodia. There is the potential to share this information around the world.”