Sanitation situation in Cambodia

Writer Monday Yakubu explores access to sanitation in Cambodia and efforts by the government to address the issue. Charts are designed by Mitchell Hensman.

Cambodia is home to an estimated 14.7 million people as revealed by the Cambodian Inter-Censal Population Survey in 2013 (links to PDF 6.1 mb). Of this estimated total population, 11.5 million (79 per cent) live in the rural areas while 3.2 million (21 per cent) live in the urban areas.

As important as sanitation is to human health and existence, access to improved sanitation is still low in Cambodia. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines improved sanitation as: “Sanitation facilities that hygienically separate human excreta from human contact”. According to UNICEF (links to PDF): “Improving hygiene through the use of latrines and hand washing with soap, protecting water sources from feacal contamination, ensuring sustainable sources of water, as well as monitoring water quality remain key challenges for Cambodia.”

In Phnom Village where WISE and Neakpoan Organization for Development (NOD) have been supporting sanitation efforts, 12 of 101 households had latrines when we first visited in 2015 📸 Andry Hamida

For instance, the 2010 National Sanitation and Hygiene Survey (links to PDF 4.7 mb) shows that only 16.7 per cent of Cambodians have a fixed hand washing place in their homes and only 62 per cent of respondents reported practicing hand washing.

UNICEF reports that: “High incidences of diarrhoeal diseases alone account for one-fifth of deaths of children age five and under in Cambodia, and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually, largely owing to lack of sanitation and poor hygiene practices.”

Going by the JMP’s latest data, Cambodia is making some progress at improving sanitation. JMP’s estimate indicates that access to basic sanitation in the rural areas moved from 4 per cent in 2000 to 39 per cent in 2015. While in the urban areas, access to basic sanitation moved from 49 per cent to 88 per cent within same period.

Access to basic sanitation in Cambodia (Source: JMP)

Similarly, the data shows a drop in open defecation amongst the rural dwellers from 92 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2015. And in the urban areas, open defecation dropped from 42 per cent in 2000 to 3 per cent in 2015.

Open defecation rates in Cambodia (Source: JMP)

Additionally, the data indicates that there was an increase in toilets with septic tanks from 1 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2015 amongst the rural households with access to improved sanitation. Within the same period, toilets connected to the sewer system rose from 2 per cent to 3 per cent. While amongst the urban households with improved access to sanitation, toilets with septic tanks increased from 19 per cent in 2000 to 44 per cent in 2015. And toilets connected to a sewer system increased from 29 per cent in 2000 to 44 per cent in 2015. However, a World Bank report (links to PDF 3.5 mb) also notes that sector studies report much lower levels of septic tanks and instead direct disposal in waterways and open drains.

Access to toilets in Cambodia (Source: JMP)

These achievements were made possible in part because the Cambodian government has over the years developed, adopted and implemented many strategic policies. The latest being the National Strategy for Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene 2014-2025. It aims to make rural and urban communities in Cambodia “open defecation free” by 2025.

Despite the steady progress made at improving access to sanitation, the data shows that disparity exists between the income groups found in both rural and urban communities. For instance, among the poorest income quintile of the rural population, only 13 per cent have access to basic sanitation as of 2014. While in the richest rural quintile, 78 per cent have access to basic sanitation. In the urban population, open defecation among the poorest income quintile is 36 per cent and in the richest, almost every household has access to improved sanitation.

But for Cambodia to meet the 2025 target of an open defecation free society, a 2015 report as analysed by the World Bank (links to PDF 3.5 mb) reveals that an estimated 658,000 persons living in the rural areas will need to gain access to an improved sanitation facility annually. This will require a yearly expenditure of US$32.5 million. Likewise, an estimated 275,000 persons in the urban areas will be required to gain access to an improved sanitation facility annually. This is projected to engulf capital expenditure of US$86.7 million annually.

Monday Yakubu is a writer who was mobilised through UNV’s Online Volunteering Service.

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