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What does Universal Access to Clean Drinking Water (or SDG 6.1) Mean? Drawing from a Bottled Water Business Cambodia as a Case in Point.


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In 2006, UN agencies were saying that bottled water was no more than a temporary source of safe water in crisis situations. But by 2017, these agencies were declaring bottled water is an improved and primary source of drinking water for needy communities. During this period, World Bank programs also shifted their focus from infrastructure projects to supporting water markets, while the UN General Assembly ratified the human right to water in 2010. This presentation is about the concurrent rise of a social business in Cambodia called Teuk Saat 1001 that runs a nation-wide franchise of community-based water kiosks selling drinking water in 20 litre plastic bottles. This social business is supported by international development and corporate philanthropy. In addition, Teuk Saat 1001 is central to the Royal Government of Cambodia’s ambitions to achieve SDG target 6.1 for “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”. Drawing on research in two communities and interviews with senior people in the social business and stakeholder agencies, this presentation delves into the debate about markets, choice, the human right to water, temporality and the water commons. It shows how development agencies function as political brokers while supporting social business in accordance with ideas about adaptive development, while raising concerns with the technical narrative of social business and the assumption that the business model can be easily replicated from one community to the next. 

Speaker: Dr. Isaac Lyne is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), at Western Sydney University in Australia. He has researched the social economy and social enterprise in Cambodia for 15 years, primarily focusing on rural development. His disciplinary background is economic geography, and his qualitative work includes action research and ethnographic approaches. Isaac has previously researched drinking water distribution in eastern Cambodia, funded by the SeedBox International Environmental Humanities Collaboratory hosted at Linköping University in Sweden, and he currently researches digital finance and farming in Cambodia and Laos on a 5-year project commissioned by Australia Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). He has written articles for Water Alternatives, Development Policy Review, Journal of Enterprising Communities, Social Economy Revue (RECMA) and Education, Knowledge and Economy.

Moderator:  Ponleu Soun, previously a lecturer and research associate at the Department of Media and Communication of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, now serves as the Program Manager of the CKS-Ponlok Chomnes Program at the Center for Khmer Studies. He has presented his research at international conferences, such as the 2nd Asian Summer School on Political Parties and Democracy; the 7th International Conference on International Relations and Development; and the 2023 Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the publications and through webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. The designations employed in the publications and through the webinars, and the presentation of material therein, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. as to the matters discussed therein. The responsibility for opinions expressed in the publications and webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers, and the publication does not constitute an endorsement by The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. of the opinions, views or issues discussed therein.


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