Friday, August 3, 2012

Cambodia in June

Chris Cope and Hayley Ryckman (grad students extraordinaire) and Jim Chamberlain (ordinary research engineer) spent most of the month of June working in the arsenic-impacted areas of Cambodia. Dr. David Sabatini joined the group midway through their time in country, flying over from Thailand where he was teaching a summer course.  
Cambodian boys playing near the bogs, where fishing is a common pastime.
While working in the rural villages, they stayed in a bungalow provided by RDIC (Resource Development International-Cambodia), a non-profit organization that builds local capacity through projects such as ceramic water pot manufacturing, construction of rainwater storage vessels, health education, sustainable farming and agricultural practices, and media production. Their wet chemistry laboratory is the finest in Cambodia, and Chris and Hayley each set up equilibrium tests using various media to treat local well water of high arsenic concentration (as high as 1000 ppb). In addition to laboratory work, the group had meetings and built relationships with Cambodia's Minister of Rural Water Supply, along with representatives of UNICEF, the Royal University of Phnom Penh, IDE-Cambodia, and EWB-Australia. As an added bonus, they had lunch with Joe Brown of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and scientists with WaterSHED-Asia.  

Dr. Sabatini, Jim and Chris are joined by a new Aussie friend for evening drinks and conversation
at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh. 
Chris, Hayley and Jim spent their last week in Cambodia doing household visits in three different villages in the Kandal province, a region heavily affected by naturally-occurring arsenic in the groundwater produced by wells. Our informal survey consisted of finding out what water sources people used for drinking, cooking, and washing during both the dry and the rainy seasons. Typically, Cambodia has abundant rainfall during the months of May through November, and many people use rainwater harvesting in traditional pieng jars and in larger manufactured barrels. During the dry season, families will quickly run out of stored water, and resort to a variety of measures, including consumption of arsenic-laden well water. In the words of several villagers, “We have no other choice.”

Two pictures of villagers showing some of their household necessities - a comfortable hammock and several large pieng jars for collecting and storing rainwater during the wet season.
Our research at the OU WaTER Center is 1) to develop locally-producible adsorption filters that can be appropriately scaled to the household or to the community level to remove arsenic (Chris, Hayley), and 2) to compare best alternatives to using arsenic well water in terms of both cost, effectiveness, and life cycle environmental impacts (Jim). Our work for these three weeks in country have been to support both of these efforts, and the work now continues back in the States.

Monks carry precious water underneath their saffron-coloured robes.
The brilliant orange of the monks' robes still dots the landscape of most rural villages and city streets. 

The OU WaTER Center team, gathered for Sunday Mass at St. Joseph's parish in Phnom Penh.
The group was hosted by the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 
Many more pictures from this trip and the summer trip to Ethiopia are found at OU WaTER Center group Facebook page.

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