Why don’t wells function? Using evidence for smart development

Why don’t wells function? Using evidence for smart development

For SNV’s Functionality of Rural Water Supply Services (FRWS) programme in Chum Kiri district, it's important to know why supplies aren't functioning before you can begin to address the problem. At SNV, we use evidence gathered from our own work, and from best practice, to advocate for and implement locally tailored, pro-poor solutions and systemic changes for smart development.

In order to achieve smart development in Chum Kiri district, an extensive survey has recently completed which sheds light on the situation. Let’s look more closely at all the supplies that were partially and non-functional and examine the reasons why.

Among the non- or partially-functioning water supplies, Chum Kiri District has 108 tube wells with a mechanical problem and 46 dug wells that were too dry by February (approximately four months into the dry season). Stolen or missing pumps were also an issue for tube wells. A moderate proportion of dug wells were stuck (i.e. filled up with garbage or collapsed). In Chum Kiri, we know we have a big problem with the drinkability of the groundwater supplies – especially the deeper supplies accessed by tube wells.

In March 2014 we took a conductivity meter and some hardness test kits into two communities: one where the people drink the water; and another where the community does not drink the water. There was a clear difference in the chemical properties of the water between the two groups of tube wells. Tube wells that were not used for drinking had conductivity levels on average four times higher than wells used for drinking!

Data from our Water Supply Mapping (WSM) showed that only 28% of all the tube wells in the district provided good tasting water to users. Dug wells were better (41%) and community ponds better still (71%). However, it is also important to consider that tube wells represent improved (UNICEF/WHO JMP) water supplies, which may be more likely to offer safe water to consumers. Therefore it is a clear challenge to provide access to improved water supplies in Chum Kiri because of the poor quality of the groundwater accessed by tube wells.

A total of 55% of the 366 tube wells in the district have broken down at some time since construction. Of those wells that have ever broken down, 27% were never fixed and remain broken today.  Between 50% to 60% of broken wells were fixed by users themselves, whether by buying spare parts in the market, and/or seeking technical advice on how to get their well operational again.


In the coming weeks we will further explore the reasons why some wells remain broken and assess the sources of spare parts and technical advice users are accessing. We think some wells could remain broken because repair services are not available or not known; or the household doesn’t have enough money to buy spare parts

The breakdowns that are not being repaired are more likely to be major breakdowns, or perhaps other alternative water supplies are available and the broken well does not have much value in the community. Dried-up dug wells are also clearly as issue in the district and we will explore whether options for deepening the wells are feasible.

We recently disseminated the results of the WSM survey to provincial, district, and commune government counterparts at a provincial workshop. Cambodia is celebrating Khmer New Year in April, after which we will begin using the data from WSM to develop Water Supply Functionality Plans at each level of government including: all seven communes in Chum Kiri district, district administrative government, and Provincial Department of Rural Development. We envision that this data and information will create interest in governance and planning for rural water supply and will be used to direct resources to areas that are in need for higher service levels.