By Sun Narin
Living in Sambuo village of Peam Chor district located in Prey Veng province, a forty-year old peasant, Pin Komsan, is staying on the wooden bed and has no longer worked in the farm since his arsenic disease was deteriorating a few years ago. He consumed the arsenic water in the well more than ten years without realizing the effects at all.
“I have been in the operation three times. First, there are a lot of small wounds on my legs and then they become the infected wound,” he said.
“Now I stop thinking about it [disease] because I am not the only one who contracted the disease,” he said.
Prey Veng is one of the provinces along Mekong River which are at the risk of the arsenic substance in the well. According to figures released by the Department of Water Supply at the Ministry of Rural Development in 2010, about 150,000 people living along the Mekong and Bassac rivers are consuming arsenic-contaminated drinking water for at least part of the year.
Andrew Shantz, laboratory and research director for Resource Development International Cambodia said that most of Peam Chor district is affected by Arsenic contamination.
“The more exposure, the more consumption you have in your body, the higher probability you contract the arsenic cancer,” he said, adding that his organization does not do much work in Prey Veng because it is quite far. Most of the activities are in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district.
There are roughly 80 wells in Sambuo village and most of them contain the over exposed arsenic contamination which they cannot use it, according to the commune chief. Another village Prek Chrov in the same commune whose 99 percent of the wells are arsenic contamination.
Sun Yim, Sam Bou commune chief, said that the villagers still use well and filter water in the dry season but now they can use rain water and river water for their daily life since it is the raining season. Now in his commune there is only one water filter for the whole consumption in the community. However, he complained that it is not enough for the using in the community as a whole.
“Though people are aware of the disease, some still use the arsenic water because they are far away from the arsenic-free water. They are not afraid at all,” he said.
Aged 58 and being contracted with Arsenic disease on palms and legs, Cheng Sreng from Sambuo village said that his two daughters have also contracted the disease because his family used arsenic well water for some 10 years. However, his family has now consumed the treatment water which is recommended by RDI.
“Our pain is relieved, but there are still wounds on palm and legs. It is painful when they are hot,” he said. His two daughters said that the wounds are not painful like before since they stopped using arsenic water.
Andrew Shantz said that if people don’t have enough water for bathing and washing, they can use arsenic water to do those things instead. They should store rain water and other safe sources for drinking water, he adds.
“We are doing work with the Ministry of Rural Development to help the villages of arsenic-affected villages. We raise awareness to the people. The best thing to do is to stop drinking arsenic-contaminated well water,” he said.
The government should raise awareness to the most impacted communities and keep testing the well so that people will be aware of the arsenic in the well and try to increase the alternative safe water resource such as filter for the people, he recommends.
A few people in Preak Russey village in Koh Thom district of Kandal province died of the disease and dozens of people have contracted the disease, according to Chhorn Sovorn, deputy village chief of Preak Russey village.
Mao Saray, the director of the department of Rural Water Supply said in the interview with Post “After prolonged exposure – typically three to 10 years – skin lesions can develop which can lead to gangrene, and in severe cases amputations are necessary,” he said in the interview with Post.
The Ministry of health in cooperation with the UNICEF and other relevant organizations are helping people with the clean drinking water by using tap water, rain tub and water filters. Mao Saray said that, the ministry of Rural Development is planning to provide clean water to people at least 50 percent in 2015 and 100 percent in 2025.