By Vincent Loka, UN Young Leader for the SDGs

We made our way across floating scaffolds on the Tonlé Sap, the river water below unmoving. Chhnok Tru Village sits upon a table of static murky water, silenced by the lack of rainfall during Cambodia’s dry season. For the villagers that lived upon this river, this was their primary source of water. However, the turbid waters, stale brown from the sediments and waste matter that had accumulated, did little to justify the hundreds of lives that depend on it.

While many of us who live in more developed and urbanized environments can get clear flowing water from our taps, there are close to 2 billion people who still depend on unsafe sources of drinking water. These untreated water sources are contaminated with bacteria and pathogens and is one of the leading causes of morbidity and death in communities that have little or no access to safe drinking water. As a Young Leader for the SDGs, I believe that working to improve access to clean water lays the foundation for better lives by giving people the ease of mind to live and work healthily. Water is undoubtedly one of the most essential elements of life and my team at WateROAM believe that we can play an active role in achieving SDG6 — to ensure greater water security for all.

My team and I had the opportunity to bring our filters down to Chhnok Tru in May 2018. Access to clean water in the village is of concern as open defecation is still in practice and no proper waste management is established. The situation on the ground was exacerbated by the prolonged dry season in the region that degraded the river water quality. Most villagers used the water directly from the river for their water needs which ranged from washing and showering to drinking and cooking. Some were able to afford bottled water but the quality of water they received varies with season. We managed to provide an alternative source of drinking water for the villagers by providing the means to directly filter water from the river to produce clean and safe drinking water, thus relieving them of the reliance on polluted water or single-use packaged water.

During our stay, we also piloted our micro-entrepreneurship model where we empower people with the technology and means to start a water business. The model provides the means for the microentrepreneurs to access our technology through a microfinancing party and that allow them to sell clean water at a more affordable rate to the community. Microentrepreneurs are also taught the necessary business skills to better manage their finances, paving a way for them to exit the poverty cycle. Through this model, we aim to create long-lasting social impacts by ensuring that communities can remain independent and self-sustainable even after external aid has vacated.

Working closely with communities on the ground has led us to recognize the complex nature of their problems and its multiple facets. It is therefore important for changemakers to note that standalone solutions are often not sufficient to tackle problems faced on the ground and that many of the difficulties faced in our target communities are interconnected. Many times, the solutions offered to these communities fail to incorporate an understanding of their cultures, resources, bureaucracy or the education required to help them utilize the solutions effectively. To create lasting change that can extend beyond our personal reach, effective partnerships are essential to generate collective progress of the various SDGs. In the context of SDG6, achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all can be achieved at much greater lengths with the provision of quality education which can improve the health of individuals and also pave the way for a better quality of life. This can be done through effective partnerships among multiple stakeholders to generate collective progress of the SDGs with the ultimate goal of transformation towards more sustainable and resilient societies. The challenge put forth by the development goals is not one that simply involves providing a one-stop solution; but for us to imagine greater synchronicity of ideas to bring these visions into reality.