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Communities in Cambodia that reside in floating dwellings are vulnerable to poor sanitation due to monsoonal rains and floods.


In Cambodia over 100,000 people live in floating villages, one of these being on the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Asia. During the monsoon season, the rivers and lakes tend to overflow and flood due to the volume of heavy rain. As a result, unmanaged human waste spreads and creates disease risk. 


EWB project aimed to pilot a product that addresses sanitation in challenging environments. The tested the HandyPod wastewater treatment system in floating households and schools to evaluate the treatment efficiency. 


The pilot was completed in July 2017, with 18 HandyPods tested. 


In Cambodia, an estimated 25-45% of the population lives in challenging environments such as floating villages. It is usually people who can’t afford to own land who live in floating villages and numbers are expected to increase in the future. During the dry season, their houses are on land near the shore of the lake but during the monsoon season, these houses float and move along the rivers and the edges of the lake. Despite the rain being a much needed respite from the drought during the dry season, the heavy rain and floods bring many sanitation issues. 

There is no management of human waste for the population of 100,000 that live in these floating villages. The water is used by children to play in, and also used for washing dishes and clothes. The same water is also used for depositing human waste as most people cannot afford a toilet.

Technology Solution

To address this issue, Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) supported a trial of the HandyPod, a wastewater treatment system designed for use in floating dwellings and schools. Wetlands Work is a social enterprise established in 2009 in Cambodia whose mission is to develop sanitation for challenging areas, especially for floating villages. 

The HandyPod resembles a floating garden and comprises a man-made wetland filled with water hyacinths. It connects to a porcelain squat toilet, where the waste passes through the HandyPod to the roots of the water hyacinths, which break down the waste before it passes into the lake. 

The product went through several prototype iterations between 2009 and 2014, and the latest version was piloted in two regions of the Tonle Sap Lake. The project is also supported by WTO, WaterAid and Canada Grand Challenges.


During the pilot, the floating hyacinth ponds were found to be difficult to maintain and were replaced with polystyrene filters. Regular testing was undertaken to ensure that the water quality met Cambodian standards, with the vast majority of HandyPod systems meeting the standard for lakes and reservoirs.  Surveys of students in schools indicated positive responses associated with the use of toilets connected to the HandyPods. 


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