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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lack of sanitation hinders development of rural areas

Lack of sanitation hinders development of rural areas

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More than 10 million Cambodians lack access to proper sanitation, spreading disease and inhibiting economic development, according to the World Bank

Photo by:

HENG CHIVOAN

A girl in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Chhouk village takes water from a small pond to wash with. The World Bank estimates some 10.7 million Cambodians live without proper sanitation.

 GROWING CONCERNS

A ccording to the World Bank study, more than 10.7 million rural Cambodians live without proper sanitation, while the World Health Organisation has found 12,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhoea-related illnesses in rural areas each year.

OVER 400 families call Takeo province's Trapaing Chhouk village home, eking out livings in makeshift thatched huts that have fallen into disrepair. Plastic wrappers, cloths and empty food containers litter the floors of these improvised shelters, of which only 20 percent have electricity.

The village has just one source of water, which is used for cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking. Toilets consist of holes in the ground - now filled with human waste - that were dug by City Hall nearly a year ago. When the rains arrive, villagers will be awash in putrid, knee-deep water.

Conditions in Trapaing Chhouk, a relocation site for villagers made homeless when a blaze ripped through their community in Phnom Penh, belie its presence in urban Phnom Penh: Village huts stand in the shadow of a 10-metre-long advertising billboard and five-storey modern Khmer houses are scattered around them.

But the village's squalor is the rule rather than the exception in Cambodia, where a lack of sanitation and access to toilets in both urban and rural areas costs the country an estimated US$190 million annually, according to a study conducted by the World Bank in December.

Neglected issue

Trapaing Chhouk village Chief Chhum Phaneth said 10 percent of the children in the village have become sick with diarrhoea and water-borne diseases since being relocated to the new site.

"I am worried for the children who live here because of the lack of sanitation. Some of them have coughs [and] diarrhoea," he said.

"Nowadays, we have to use plastic bags as our toilet and we throw it away as waste."

Chek Kimthoeun, 16, said he and the six members of his family went to the toilet in the forest "every night".

"I don't want to go there and I get frightened at night, but how can I avoid it? My house does not have a toilet," he said.

In rural provinces, the story is much the same. Viey Savet, 12, from Chong Kneas village in Siem Reap province, gets all his water from the same lake.

In a "water diary" provided by the Red Cross, he describes his day: "I wake up and wash my face and brush my teeth using water from the lake. I go to the toilet. Our latrine goes straight into the lake. My parents both bathe in the lake. To make dinner my parents boil water from the lake to use for cooking. I bathe three times each day in the lake with soap."

According to the World Bank study, Cambodia sustained the highest per capita losses due to poor sanitation in the region.

"Poor sanitation and hygiene will cost $190 million annually, as a result of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, skin disease, malaria, respiratory infections," said  Kov Phyrum, a World Bank water supply and sanitation analyst.

"Health costs include treatment, travelling costs, medical costs and the loss of economic value due to premature deaths."

Despite the government pledging increased funds late last year, Kov Phyrum said the situation has since worsened.

"Sanitation is one of the most neglected areas in the government," he said.

"An increase of funding from both the government and international aid needs to be given in order to find a solution to this problem."

Chea Samang, director of the Department of Rural Heath Care, agreed that the increased funding was inadequate to address the lack of sanitation.

"The national budget is not enough, but we cannot solely rely on the government for more funding. We also have to work closely with NGOs such as UNICEF and USAID to improve sanitation," he said, adding that it was also the responsibility of the rural communities to increase awareness of health issues.

By 2015, the World Bank hopes to improve rural sanitation, in achieving the Cambodian Millennium Development Goals, which pledges the country to extend  improved sanitation services to 30 percent of the rural population.

"There needs to be a long-term approach to improve the current situation," Kov Phyrum said.

"It's not just a matter of providing toilets. It's about bringing awareness to rural communities on the importance of sanitation and health and for these communities to then demand sanitation in their provinces."

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