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Korean scientists help ease water shortages in Cambodia
MARCH 07, 2014 04:20  
About 40 kilometers away from Phnom Pen, Cambodia, there is a town called "Heaven Village." Each house has three or four big and mossy jars full of water. Local residents keep rain water in the jars for drinking. During the dry spell between November and April or May, village people have to walk a long way to draw water from a reservoir. Several years ago, a South Korean relief organization installed a pump so that the villagers to draw underground water. But they seldom use the pump because they do not like the taste of underground water.

Last year, Scientists and Engineers Without Borders (SEWB), a South Korean non-governmental relief organization, tried to design a water purifier through various attempts since the complicated device was not easy for locals to maintain or repair. Finally, the organization successfully developed "appropriate technology" so simple that local people can maintain the water purifier without outside help. A Dong-A Ilbo reporter visited the Heaven Village with researchers of the organization on February 11 to find out about the true potential of the "appropriate technology."

○ Communication with locals is key

After analyzing the village`s underground water at the request by a Korean missionary last year, the SEWB found that the water contained high levels of iron and manganese. They thought that the water tasted bitter and was thus shunned by the locals. Based on the findings, a team led by Yoon Je-yong, a professor of chemical engineering and biotechnology at Seoul National University, developed the idea of filtering out pollutants with sand filters before using chlorine obtained through electrolysis of salt water to purify the water. They also envisioned a 1-ton water tank that would supply water to 500 local residents.

After the launch in 2009 with volunteers in the science and technology fields, the SEWB succeeded in receiving the South Korean government`s support from this year. Thanks to the support from Korea`s Science, ICT and Future Planning Ministry and the National Research Foundation, the Cambodia-Korea Science and Technology Center: the Innovative Water Center (iWc) opened the National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia on February 13.

"We plan to stay in Cambodia to develop technology for supplying safe and clean water to locals by 2017," said Choi Eui-so, a professor emeritus at Korea University who has been appointed as first head of the iWc. "Our ultimate goal is to develop the most appropriate technology for the locals and leave the operation in their hands."

The iWc is the first center established under the ministry`s project to set up appropriate science and technology centers. Starting with the iWc, the South Korean government plans to establish regional appropriate science and technology centers in developing countries in the fields of energy and bio resources. Through the centers, the government plans to help improve the quality of life of local population, foster economic growth and seek new business opportunities with technologies necessary to locals.

"If we develop technologies that local residents need the most, a Korean Wave in science can become a new business model," said Dokgo Seok, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Dankook University who is in charge of the project.

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