Lien AID launches #waterisluxury campaign

Singapore is a city of luxury that plays host to lavish social life and many designer brands. But there’s one home-grown luxury that few talk about: access to clean water.

Last month, Lien AID launched a pop-up luxury water bar in the city and invited hundreds of guests inside for an exclusive taste of Ô – the most expensive water in Asia priced at SGD $1,260 a bottle.

People flocked in for a free taste of Asia’s most expensive water – which is pH balanced, rejuvenating, hydrating and most of all, very refreshing.

Then, they realised that the luxury water was not quite what it seemed.

Eau does not actually exist.

Inside each bottle is 100% clean water, which is readily available to us here. But in our neighbouring countries, clean water can be up to 1,260 times less affordable than in Singapore.

For millions of Asia’s rural poor, water is luxury.

But it shouldn’t be.

More than 200 million rural poor in Asia still lack access to clean water. Lien AID is an international non-profit committed to enabling sustainable clean water access for Asia’s rural poor. Watch the full video below and learn more about how you can help at waterisluxury.sg.

For the latest updates on Lien AID, connect with us on our Facebook page.

The Prettiest Student Village Officer

Puban Village, Gangkou Town

When villagers in Puban are asked about Zhangli, they invariably refer to her as the “Prettiest Student Villager Officer (最美丽的村官)”. Zhangli was a fresh graduate and young mother of a little girl when she decided to apply to work in a rural village as a Student Village Officer (大学生村官). Driven by her passion for helping others, she applied to and passed the Chongqing Municipal Committee’s selection exams with flying colours, and was subsequently assigned to Puban village in Gangkou town, Wulong county. As a Student Village Officer, she would take up residence at Puban village, supporting and implementing the Chinese government’s poverty alleviation policies at the grassroots level, and work to improve the well-being of the villagers.

Shortly after she arrived at Puban village in 2010, she was approached by a villager who was in dire straits from the death of more than 200 mountain goats that his entire household had depended upon for their livelihood. Together with some of the village leaders, they investigated the case and found that the goats had died due to the spread of disease in the dirty pens, which could not be cleaned regularly due to the lack of clean water. Subsequent visits, interviews and chats with other households in the village also unearthed similar issues. The root cause of their struggles with improving their means of livelihood was invariably linked to the lack of clean water.

Student Village Officer (SVO) Zhang Li

Zhang Li with some of the “left-behind” children in Puban village

Thus when Zhangli found out about Lien AID’s Village Water Management programme, she submitted a project proposal for Puban village. However, as a certain amount of co-funding from local governments and villagers was required, Zhangli initially faced a shortfall of funds for the project. She refused to give up however, as she knew that a piped water system would enable the villagers to have a better quality of life. Whenever Zhangli talked to the “left-behind” children in the village, she would be reminded of her daughter, whom she had left behind to take up the post at Puban village. She was determined to make the project a success so that they would have a better life with clean tap water.

Zhangli, the village head and Lien AID at a site visit to the completed project

Zhangli, the village head and Lien AID at a site visit to the completed project

With the support of Lien AID, the local governments, and the villagers, she worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds and made sure the project stayed on tract, and was able to successfully coordinate and supervise the construction of the rural piped water system in Puban village. Although she often had no time during the weekends to visit her daughter and husband, who were living in another town, she found satisfaction in the fact that the villagers and the children no longer had to fetch water or depend on unreliable water sources.

“While implementing the clean water project, I gained not just technical knowledge in rural water facility construction but also learned how to resolve issues and manage stakeholders. The learning curve was steep but it was a great experience which allowed me to grow from a young graduate into a mature grassroots worker.”

In 2013, after the completion of the project, she was feted as one of the inspiring figures of Wulong county in the television programme “Ten Figures Inspiring Wulong” (感动武隆十大人物). Even though she is no longer working as a Student Village Officer at Puban village, she continues to serve the rural communities through her capacity as the chairwoman of the Women’s Federation of Gangkou town in Wulong county. And the villagers still remember her as the “Prettiest Student Villager Officer (最美丽的村官)”.

You can learn more about our work in China here

Meet the coffee connoisseur of Anglong Tean village

Anglong Tean Village, Borei Cholsar Commune
Cambodia

It was almost midday when the car pulled into the village of Anglong Tean in Takeo province. Located just 2 hours south of the bustling city of Phnom Penh, this quiet, serene village set along the Cambodia-Vietnam border seemed worlds apart.

Farmers working in rice fields in Anglong Tean village, Cambodia

Farmers working in rice fields in Anglong Tean Village, Cambodia

Cows grazing in the fields in Anglong Tean village

Cows grazing in the fields in Anglong Tean village

After passing through acres of rice fields set against the dramatic backdrop of the Mekong River, we finally came to a stop on the dirt road. I got out of the car feeling slightly disoriented from the bumpy ride and nearly tripped over a chicken, much to the amusement of the local children.

Children in Anglong Tean village, Takeo Province, Cambodia

Children in Anglong Tean village, Takeo Province, Cambodia

Feeling rather hot and thirsty, we decided to get a drink at the first provision shop that we came upon. Run by a warm, friendly lady named Se Hin, the shop was small but well-stocked – the shelves were lined with jars full of candies, crackers and cookies, sodas in every colour of the rainbow, small toys and a dizzying variety of household items.

(Left) Shop owner Se Hin; (right) coffee made by Se Hin.

(Left) Shop owner Se Hin; (right) coffee made by Se Hin.

At Se Hin’s insistence, I got an iced coffee – her specialty, as I was told. The first sip that I took left me pleasantly surprised. The coffee was dark and smooth, comparable to what you would expect in a hip café somewhere else in the world!

Se Hin making a cup of coffee

Se Hin making a cup of coffee inside her shop

Se Hin, as it turns out, was not born and raised here. She came to Anglong Tean village from Vietnam 20 years ago in search of a better life. She started off by working long, strenuous hours as a farmer in the rice fields.

Life was difficult back then. She could not afford a proper stilted house, so in the wet season, Se Hin’s home was partially submerged in water. She had to sleep on a hammock that hung precariously from the roof.

One year, the area was hit by a big flood and her crops were destroyed, taking with them her only source of income.

But Se Hin was strong-willed and ambitious. Unwilling to let her four young children go hungry, she took a bank loan and opened the provision shop, selling porridge, coffee, snacks and other household items.

However, it was not long before she had new problems. The water from the Mekong river was polluted with feces and pesticide. People were getting sick from drinking the contaminated water. Se Hin started buying bottled clean water daily from Vietnam to make coffee and porridge to sell.

The Mekong river that runs alongside Anglong Tean village. Vietnam is accessible by boat from the village.

The Mekong river that connects Anglong Tean village to Vietnam

Sometimes, the water did not arrive in time and she would have to make multiple trips to a pond to fetch buckets of water. The amount of porridge and coffee that she sold depended on the amount of water that she could collect.

A girl fetching water. Before Community Water Enterprise (CWE) came to the village, Se Hin sometimes had to make multiple trips to fetch water with buckets.

A girl fetching water. Before Community Water Enterprise (CWE) came to the village, Se Hin sometimes had to make multiple trips to fetch water.

When Community Water Enterprise (CWE) came to the village, Se Hin was one of the first ones to jump on board. With better access to affordable clean water, she can finally make more porridge and coffee to sell, and earn more income to support her family.

Bottles of clean water in the CWE treatment plant in Anglong Tean village.

Bottles of clean water in the CWE treatment plant in Anglong Tean village.

With better access to clean water, Se Hin can make more coffee and porridge to sell and earn more income to support her family.

With better access to clean water, Se Hin can make more coffee and porridge to sell and earn more income to support her family.

“Business is good now”, she tells me. “People used to spend twice as much on imported water from Vietnam. Now they have more money to buy snacks and drinks. I have more income to send my children to school.”

For the first time ever, Se Hin also has the time and money to take care of herself. These days, she can afford to buy new clothes and makeup. “I did not have money or time to look good when I was young. Now I have to catch up”, Se Hin tells me as she proudly shows me her beautifully decorated home right beside the shop.

(Left) Se Hin poses beside her war wardrobe; (right) the interior of her home.

(Left) Se Hin poses beside her wardrobe; (right) the interior of her home.

Before we left, I complimented her on her smile. “Thank you”, she says, “You make me feel beautiful again.”

This project in Borei Cholsar Commune implemented under the Community Water Enterprise programme in Cambodia, was supported with co-funding from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Updates from the field: Village Water Management projects in China

Better access to clean water a reality for more than 5,000 villagers in Shandong

Back in June, we shared updates on some ongoing Village Water Management projects in China. Last month, we completed inspection for three project sites in Shandong province and more than 5,000 villagers in Zhujiazhuang, Huangshanzi and Beishiqiao villages gained access to clean piped water.

A villager in Zhujiazhuang village, Shandong province now has access to clean piped water right outside her home

A villager in Zhujiazhuang village, Shandong province now has access to clean piped water right outside her home

Post project monitoring and inspection

We are also continuing our efforts on post project monitoring for VWM projects completed last year. In the beginning of August, we visited the four villages of Qianjin, Jinggang, Sanyuan and Zhongying in Guizhou province, where clean piped water was brought to more than 7,000 villagers under the VWM programme.

Volunteers and staff en route to the villages

Volunteers and staff en route to the villages

With the help of volunteers, we recorded water utilisation rates and examined operational documents and the conditions of water facilities. We also conducted house-to-house visits as well as interviews with members of the local water management committee. The information collected will be used for the post project sustainability assessments (PPSAs), which will aim to improve the effectiveness  and outcomes of our VWM projects.

Learn more about the VWM programme in China here. To stay in touch with our latest updates, join our mailing list.

The Top Student

It was an exceptionally hot day for the wet season. By the time we made it to the only school in Pou Andait village, my shirt was soaked with perspiration. Morning class had just ended.  School children poured out of the classrooms and clambered onto over-sized bicycles, legs stretched to reach the foot pedals as they made their way shakily down the dirt road outside the school.

(Left) students getting on bicycles to go home after school: (Right) children in the school.

(Left) students getting on bicycles to go home after school; (Right) children in the school.

Some stopped and got off their bikes to observe me from a safe distance with squinted eyes. After all, an outsider was a rare sight in this village. However, it was not long before their wary looks were replaced with wide-eyed curiosity. Soon, I found myself surrounded by excited, smiling children eagerly posing for photographs.

Amid the crowd of excited school children, one girl caught my attention. She stood out from the other students with her quiet confidence and calm demeanor. Her eyes had a pensive, brooding and slightly melancholic quality to them. She did not smile, not much anyway.

Chann Mie, 11 years old.

Chann Mie, 11 years old.

Inside the principal’s office, I was granted an introduction to this girl. Her name is Chann Mie, and she is 11 years old. This little girl who looks just half her age suffered from poor health her whole life. Yet, she is the top student in her school, her teacher told us.

Chann Mie is a special girl. She is smart, respectful and always willing to help her friends. Her favorite subjects are mathematics and Khmer language. Despite being born into a poor family, she is unwilling to accept the fate of an ordinary girl in Pou Andait village.

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up so I can live a life less difficult than my parents. But last month, I fell sick five times with diarrhea and could not come to school.” – Chann Mie.

Chann Mie (with the pink backpack) getting on her bicycle for the journey home.

Chann Mie (with the pink backpack) getting on her bicycle for the journey home.

After school, Chann Mie goes home to help her parents. On a typical day, she has to finish her homework, babysit her younger sister, help her parents in the rice fields, hand wash dirty clothes and herd the goats back home. If she finishes all her chores early, she gets to skip rope with her friends.

She cannot do any of that when she is sick.

Like many other students in her school, Chann Mie brings water from home – usually rainwater or river water. Sometimes her parents do not have time to boil the water, and the whole family gets diarrhea.

(Left) empty bottle in a school bag; (Right) rainwater collected inside a water storage jar.

(Left) empty bottle in a school bag; (Right) rainwater collected inside a water storage jar.

But things are changing for the better.

Today, under the Community Water Enterprise (CWE) programme in Kanchor Commune, Chann Mie’s school can obtain a number of free 20-litre bottles of clean water daily. Since the completion of this CWE project in October last year, we have been continuing our efforts to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this project. The fight for clean water is a continuous uphill battle with numerous challenges, but we are hopeful for a future where Chann Mie and her schoolmates will enjoy better health through improved access to clean water.

Bottles of clean treated water in the CWE treatment plant in Pou Andait Village, Kanchor Commune.

Bottles of clean treated water in the CWE treatment plant in Pou Andait Village, Kanchor Commune.

Join us now to work together towards a common vision of better water governance and a future where sustainable clean water access is available to everyone. You can also learn more about our work in Cambodia here.

Updates from the field: Community Water Enterprise projects in Cambodia

Exploring new sites in Kratie Province

We shared plans in May on exploring new sites for Community Water Enterprise (CWE) projects in Cambodia. Our team conducted feasibility studies in nine communes within Kratie province during end June and start of July, and identified four sites for further needs assessment.

Through the feasibility studies and discussions with the commune councils, we found that villagers in Kratie province face the risk of exposure to arsenic-contaminated water and low water sanitation and hygiene practices. As piped water supply is only available in more populated areas along the river, villagers who live in remote locations face increasing difficulties in accessing clean water.

Recent developments for ongoing CWE projects  

In addition to the upcoming intervention in Kratie province, we are also picking up on the progress of ongoing CWE projects in Cambodia.  In the past two months, our team set up water distribution points and selected local water entrepreneurs and water promoters over four sites in Prey Veng and Kampong Chhnang provinces.

Water Management Committees (WMCs) and water entrepreneurs in Prey Veng province attended training on effective management and monitoring of water distribution systems while water promoters were trained on ways to increase awareness and understanding of clean water benefits among the villagers.

Water promoters in Prey Veng province attend training (left); WMC members and water entrepreneurs attend CWE training (right).

Water promoters in Prey Veng province attend training (left); WMC members and water entrepreneurs attend CWE training (right).

Plans are afoot for eight CWE projects across Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces. With WMCs established and commune council meetings underway, the construction of water treatment facilities and capacity trainings are expected to kick off in the coming months.

Meeting with the commune council in Koul commune, Kampong Thom province (left); Current water source for villagers in Msar Krang commune, Kampong Thom province (right).

Meeting with the commune council in Koul commune, Kampong Thom province (left); Current water source for villagers in Msar Krang commune, Kampong Thom province (right).

Join us now to work together towards a common vision of better water governance and a future where sustainable clean water access is available to everyone. You can also learn more about our work in Cambodia here.

Tackling water woes through strategic partnership

In collaboration with our strategic partner China Association for Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD), we organised our first Village Water Management (VWM) programme commendation event in Beijing on 22 May where we took the opportunity to share the clean water project outcomes from our partnership in the last five years.

VWM programme commendation event organised in collaboration with CAPAD

VWM programme commendation event organised in collaboration with CAPAD

The event saw the participation of 58 attendees, including key leaders from Lien AID and CAPAD, various government authorities, Student Village Officers (SVOS), corporate partner and the local media. CAPAD’s Vice Chairman Mr. Wen Kegang shared the collaboration programme with Lien AID has benefitted more than 100,000 rural villagers across 73 poverty stricken villages in nine provinces in the past five years. He expressed the importance of continuous close collaboration between Lien AID and CAPAD as well as the support from various local government authorities. SVOs were called upon to continue to advance their efforts in project implementation for the villagers and for their personal growth.

Vice Minister of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China Mr. Ou Qingping also attended the event. In his keynote speech, he spoke highly of the VWM programme. Commendation awards were presented to outstanding SVOs, local partners, individual and corporate donors at the event.

Commendation awards presented to outstanding SVOs

Commendation awards presented to outstanding SVOs

Closing the session, our CEO Mr. Koh Lian Hock called for foundations, corporates and individuals to participate in the programme to improve clean water access and living conditions of rural communities in China.

Updates on ongoing Village Water Management (VWM) projects in China

Back in January, we shared the progress of our ongoing VWM projects in China. With most of the projects under the 7th batch of the VWM programme completed and pending inspection, we are picking up on the progress of the 8th batch of VWM projects spread across Hunan, Shandong and Guizhou provinces.

Construction of piped water system in Jinlan village, Guizhou

Construction of piped water system in Jinlan village, Guizhou province

Under the 8th batch of the VWM programme, the construction of water distribution and storage infrastructure has kicked off at some project sites, with some households in Huangshanzi and Zhujiazhuang villages in Shandong province and Qishu village in Guizhou province gaining access to clean piped water.

In addition to the construction of infrastructure, we also conducted a series of Health and Hygiene (H&H) training sessions for villagers in April and May. These sessions aim to increase the knowledge capacity of local communities, as well as raise awareness on best practices in health and hygiene. As we move towards the conclusion of the 8th batch of VWM projects later this year, stay tuned to learn more about our takeaways and milestones accomplished!

Villagers attend training on best practices in health & hygiene in Longshan village, Guizhou province

Villagers attend training on best practices in health & hygiene in Longshan village, Guizhou province

Learn more about the VWM programme in China here. To stay in touch with our latest updates, join our mailing list:

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Better access to affordable clean water no longer a pipe dream for 1,800 villagers in Myanmar

Earlier this year, we shared the progress of our pilot clean water project in Tetma village, Mandalay region, Myanmar. In partnership with Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), this project aims to create better access to affordable clean water for more than 1,800 villagers.

Tetma village is located in the dry zone in Myanmar and experiences low annual rainfall. When we first visited this area in 2014, we saw the importance of clean water to the villagers – especially in terms of livelihood, and their daily challenges to get access to clean water. Families typically start their day with a walk of up to an hour to fetch eight to 10 gallons of clean water from a well for personal use and their production of jaggery (honey and candy) for trade. The amount of jaggery produced is dependent on the amount of clean water that families can collect in time, before the local tradesman collect their products daily.

Women in Tetma village making jaggery (honey and candy) for trade

Women in Tetma village making jaggery (honey and candy) for trade

Handover of completed pilot clean water project to Tetma village on 12 June 2016

Under the pilot clean water project, a solar-powered and gravity-fed piped water distribution system was extended from an existing tube well to eight water points at six surrounding hamlets (small rural settlements with a small population), bringing access to clean water closer to the homes.

New water tower and storage tank

New water tower and storage tank

The local Water Management Committee (WMC) was trained to manage and monitor the new water distribution system, while workshops were conducted for both the WMC and local villagers to increase awareness on best practices in health and hygiene.

Since the completion of the system in April 2016, villagers shared that it has reduced walking distances and saved time on water collection. Some of them have been able to collect more water for their personal use and jaggery production with the reduced walking distance and lower cost.

Villagers collecting water at one of the water points

Villagers collecting water at one of the water points

We handed over the project to the village authorities at an official ceremony graced by Ministers and General Attorney from the Mandalay Regional Government, district administrators and villagers on 12 June 2016.

Lien AID Chairman Mr Michael Sim with local authorities at the official handover ceremony

Lien AID Chairman Mr Michael Sim with local authorities at the official handover ceremony

The completion of this pilot project in the Mandalay region marks Lien AID’s first step in enabling clean water access for Myanmar’s rural communities. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this project for the next two years. Moving forward, we are also studying the feasibility of piloting clean water projects in the Ayeyarwady region, bringing the gift of clean water to more rural communities in Myanmar.

Learn more about Myanmar’s water woes and our focus areas here.

Clean water sources critical amid Cambodia’s prolonged drought

Cambodia’s drought crisis

Exhausted drinking water supplies, cracked river beds, dead animal carcasses and ruined crops – a barren and desolate sight greets many Cambodians as the country is gripped by one of the worst droughts in decades.[1]

According to a recent Channel NewsAsia report, many regions in Cambodia have not received significant rain since late last year and about two-thirds of the country now has insufficient drinking water. One of the regions is Kampong Thom province, where locals shared that they have not recalled seeing heavy rain for about a year.[2]

Our upcoming intervention at Kampong Thom province

Clean water sources have become even more critical amid Cambodia’s drought crisis. Back in 2015, as part of our Cambodia three-year work plan, we identified Kampong Thom province as one of our key focus provinces.

We conducted needs assessments and baseline surveys in seven communes within Kampong Thom province between 22  February to 3 March this year and found that most of the respondents acknowledged to falling sick from drinking untreated water.

We have kicked off our Community Water Enterprise intervention in these seven communes in Kampong Thom province this month:

  • Kampong Kou commune, Kampong Svay district
  • Prey Kuy commune, Kampong Svay district
  • Koul commune, Prasat Sambou district
  • Sraeung commune, Prasat Sambou district
  • Chhuk commune, Prasat Sambou district
  • Mean Chey commune, Prasat Sambou district
  • Msar Krang commune, Stoung district

Stepping up on our CWE projects in Cambodia

In addition to our upcoming interventions in Kampong Thom province and Ta An commune in Siem Reap, we are also exploring viability of projects at Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. Both are located along the Mekong River and the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRP) reported only 48% and 49.5% of families with access to improved water supply in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces respectively. Some of these local communities also face:

  • Risk of exposure to arsenic-contaminated water
  • Limited access to treated drinking water
  • Lack of piped water supply
  • Low water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices

Join us now to work together towards a common vision – better water governance and a future where clean water access is available to everyone. You can also learn more about our work in Cambodia here.

 

References

[1] Crothers, L. (2016, 05 05). Animals die as Cambodia is gripped by worst drought in decades. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/05/animals-die-cambodia-worst-drought-decades

[2] Board, J. (2016, 05 18). Desperation grows as drought grips Cambodia. Retrieved from Channel News Asia: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/desperation-grows-as/2792150.html

China: A Thirst for Change

A Chinese villager using our piped water system

This month, Lien AID shared about how our Village Water Management (VWM) programme helps to mitigate some of the sustainability issues faced by water projects in China on China Water Risk. China Water Risk is a non-profit initiative dedicated to foster efficient and responsible use of China’s water resources by engaging global investment and business community, civil society and individuals in understanding and managing China’s water risks.

Despite large-scale investments from the central government, poor operational and financial management of facilities, deteriorating source water quality and insufficient water resources can impact the success of centralised water supply projects.

Lien AID’s VWM programme looks at mitigating some of these sustainability issues by adopting an effective and efficient implementation framework. Since 2012, we have enabled 72,150 villagers from 50 rural poor villages in China to gain access to clean tap water.

To understand more about how the VWM programme aims to deliver sustainable water access through centralised water supply infrastructure, local water advocates, local government participation, community management and cost-sharing, read the complete opinion piece at China Water Risk. To learn more details about our programme in China, visit Lien AID China’s new microsite.