A handful of engineering students from the University of Queensland are aiming to innovate water infrastructure in Cambodia and in the process help more citizens from the impoverished nation access clean water.
Students Oskar Schwab, Leah Bygraves, Waihoong Tan and Ashleigh Tomkins are aiming to design and implement a cheaper water meter that will provide more Cambodians with running water.
Years of civil war and corruption have ravished water infrastructure in Cambodia, with only 31 per cent of the whole population having access to safe drinking water.
Whilst the cost of tap water and water pipes is not overly steep, the $50 US price tag on the cheapest available water meter is simply too expensive for many Cambodians who live off less than $2 a day, and as such they can not connect to existing piped networks.
Whilst aid agencies are willing to fund and support innovative water projects to help provide water for these poorer individuals, they also require these costly meters to be installed.
Enter the group of switched on UQ engineering students who, in conjunction with Engineers Without Borders and Resource Development International – Cambodia (RDIC), are looking to design and implement a low cost water meter that has the potential to bring real change to the developing nation.
The students, who have nicknamed themselves The Planeteers, are hoping to trial their design for a more basic water meter by installing 100 of the cheaper meters in the Kandal Province of Cambodia.
RDIC country director Mickey Sampson threw his support behind the project, suggesting that piped water systems are the key for providing clean water in Kandal, and that a cheaper water meter would allow many poor families to connect to existing water systems.
“I believe by lowering the cost of the meter we can make chemical safe water more accessible to communities,” Mr Sampson said.
Mr Sampson also predicted that the design could have global benefits.
“I think this is not limited to Kandal province, a lower cost meter could have potential use throughout the developing world,” he said.
In addition to designing the meter, the students are also looking at different marketing strategies and have proposed a weekly payment plan, where users would slowly pay for the meter over the course of a year.
Engineering lecturer and mentor to the group Dr Lydia Kavanagh suggested the project was technically possible but identified a few problems the students will face before implementation of the design.
“There are a couple of issues, one is getting local materials and local manufacture and keeping the cost down in that way, I think it’s much more likely to be adopted if it is made locally,” Dr Kavanagh said.
“The next hurdle is funding…and coming on from that is support, there needs to be government support and community support for it.”
But Dr Kavanagh was confident these hurdles would be overcome and that a pilot study could possibly be introduced within a year.
“These things will happen, I’m pretty sure eventually the system will be put in place, it really depends on the buy-in of the government and the local councils and the communities,” she said.
Consular adviser at the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in Canberra Phal Hent praised the idea and said he would be willing to help the students communicate their design to the Royal Government of Cambodia.
“If the idea is a good one, you can ask the government for funding and we can pass on information…we also work with AusAID,” Mr Hent said.
“This idea does sound like a good one, especially in rural areas where some people don’t have water.”
Mr Hent added that it was excellent to see Australian students aiming to help the development of Cambodia.
“We really appreciate it, we are starting to see more Australians take an interest in Cambodia which is great,” he said.