The HandyPod: sanitation for floating communities in Cambodia | Source: WaterAid, July 2015 |
Building safe and sustainable sanitation systems is a huge challenge for many poor communities, but when homes are built over water a new dimension is added. James Wicken, WaterAid Country Representative for Cambodia, looks at a new solution to the problem faced by Cambodia’s floating villages.
A challenging environment for sanitation
For Cambodia to reach the Government’s target of universal access to sanitation by 2025, people living in these types of areas need sustainable solutions. In Cambodia, an estimated 25-45% of the population lives in ‘challenging environments’ such as floating villages. It is often the poorest people who can’t afford to own land who live in such places, and these populations are expected to grow, especially in cities as poor people continue to migrate. Cambodia is not alone – these informal settlements are found in many countries, such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Nigeria and Indonesia.
Because of WaterAid’s focus on equity and inclusion, these populations came on to our radar in our first year of work in Cambodia. WaterAid is partnering with a social enterprise calledWetlands Work! to test one potential solution – called the HandyPod – on the Tonlé Sap lake.
When people living in the lake’s floating villages – who number well over 100,000 – need to go to the toilet, they take a boat to a secluded spot on the lake, go into the surrounding forest, or at night may squat off the side of their floating house. This same water around the houses is used to wash dishes and clothes. Young children swim in it.
Introducing: the HandyPod
The HandyPod took Wetlands Work! years to design, test and redesign. Resembling a floating garden, or a child’s paddling pool with a garden in it, it contains a man-made wetland filled with water hyacinths.
In the system, a normal porcelain squat toilet on the back of a floating house connects to a drum where the anaerobic (oxygen-less) processes take place. From here, the waste passes through to the HandyPod floating nearby, where the roots of water hyacinths further break down the waste before it passes into the lake. Wetlands Work! regularly collects water samples in the area around the pods, to ensure the quality conforms to Cambodian standards.