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People unload building materials from a trailer in Kampong Cham during the construction of a latrine in 2012 as part of a campaign to eliminate open defecation. PLAN INTERNATIONAL

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More than 600 villages, home to more than half a million people, have been declared “open-defecation free” as a result of a major program aimed at boosting the number of Cambodians who have access to hygienic toilets, according to Plan International.

In five targeted provinces – Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Svay Rieng, and Kandal – 634 villages, housing a total of 530,000 people, declared that they had abandoned the practice of outdoor defecation between 2012 and the end of last year, according to Plan International’s senior coordinator, Suthavaridh Lempho.

“The Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program (CRSHIP) has involved 2,008 villages, but so far only 634 have declared themselves defecation free and been recognised as such by the Rural Development Ministry, which is working together with Plan and local authorities,” he said.

The CRSHIP project, which has so far spent $5 million provided by the Global Sanitation Fund, is scheduled to continue through 2018, Lempho added.

In the early stages of the project, authorities identified areas with low levels of sanitation and launched information campaigns in those areas that encouraged people to switch from open defecation to toilets, to wash their hands with soap and to drink clean water, Lempho said.

“To be recognised as ‘defecation free’, a village must show it has met targets including 85 per cent of inhabitants having access to their own toilet [while the remainder must have the option of using shared latrines], and that
children’s and animal’s stools are disposed of properly,” he added.

Im Choeung, 46, a villager from Kampong Speu, said that his village gained the recognition last month after villagers installed toilets.

“We had to spend our own money in order to build the toilets by ourselves, but it’s good for our health,” he said, adding that each toilet cost villagers between $50 and $100.

Plan estimates that by the end of 2016, the number of villages that have abandoned open defecation will have passed 940.

The Ministry of Rural Development has set itself a target of 60 per cent of Cambodians having access to a toilet by 2018, and wants that figure to reach 100 per cent by 2025.

To help the drive against open defecation, the government has released two short humorous videos for broadcast nationally.

One shows a man relieving himself in the countryside, only to be confronted by a cobra, which chases him until he takes refuge in a toilet.

The second depicts a rural wedding party disrupted after the mother of one of the couple defecates in the open air, only for some malodorous unpleasantness to become attached very visibly to her dress, causing consternation amongst other guests.

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