Cambodia’s Ministry of Rural Development says the country has exceeded its interim goals for delivering clean water and sufficient sanitation to rural citizens, with 80% of the population now covered and new targets to reach 100% by 2025 firmly on track.
The ministry’s secretary of state Chrun Theravat announced the 100% access goal at a press conference Monday.
“Since 2018, the ministry has seen the construction of 11,741 wells, 1,271 community ponds, 2,440 rainwater tanks, and 200 water distribution systems, as well as distribution of 145,865 large water jars to households,” he explained, according to the Khmer Times.
Chrun added that almost 500,000 toilets had been built, while public schools received over 11,000 washing facilities, a feat that has contributed to Cambodia being only the second country to reduce the percentage of open defecation from over 80% in 2000 to 40% in 2015.
Much of the progress has been thanks to the foreign aid support of nations like China and Australia.
Since 2017, China-supported water initiatives have built thousands of community wells, while separate investments in 2020 — spurred by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — helped ensure that 70,000 children could return to schools fitted with portable handwashing facilities and cleaning products.
Australia, meanwhile, has long worked to ensure 1 million Cambodians have access to clean piped water.
A recent study by the department in rural Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces showed that high rates of stunting and malnourishment in children were directly linked to a widespread lack of healthy food and access to clean water and sanitation.
“The study showed that diarrhea can impair the nutritional status through loss of appetite and malabsorption of nutritious foods, and frequent episodes of diarrhea in the first two years of life increase the risk of stunting,” department representative Chea Samnang said. “There are at least three direct pathways through which lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene can affect a child — diarrhea, intestinal parasitic infections, and environmental enteropathy.”
Five hundred children in Kampong Thom were reported to be affected, and 400 in Siem Reap.
The challenges to ensuring rural communities have comprehensive water and sanitation access are extensive.
The United Nations explains that rural areas are often located in environmentally fragile areas that lack access to “appropriate, low-cost and locally produced technology.” Diverse cultural values add an extra level of difficulty, as does the fact that residents — mainly elderly people, women and children — are often reluctant to change habits.