The Ministry of Rural Development yesterday called for increased investment to expand access to sanitation facilities in rural Cambodia as well as more awareness about the link between low rates of access to toilets and high rates of communicable disease.
Cambodia ranked at the bottom of the region in terms of access to toilets, and this was especially acute in rural areas, ministry officials said yesterday, ahead of National Sanitation Day on Sunday.
The annual budget for improving hygiene practices and expanding access to toilets was less than US$500,000, they said.
“The government spends about 1.8 billion riel [$450,000] a year to promote hygiene. It is a major concern and challenge for Cambodia.
“Compared with other countries in the region, good hygiene practices remain low, especially in rural areas,” said Ky Sophal, deputy director of the department of rural health care.
“We are very concerned about this issue,” he said, adding that the lack of access to sanitation facilities was damaging business, especially tourism.
They don’t value toilets. Even if they have money, they spend it on cell phones instead.
Ky Sophal cited a World Bank report from 2005 that estimated the cost of poor hygiene at $445 million a year.
UNICEF has estimated that about 10,000 Cambodians die every year because of a lack of access to safe water and sanit-ation facilities.
Chea Samnang, director of the ministry’s department of rural health care, identified low education levels among villagers as a major cause of the problem.
He also said the cost of a toilet was $60, higher than the monthly income of many households in rural areas.
But Chea Samnang said rural poverty was not the cause of low access to toilets. “They don’t value toilets. Even it they have money, they spend it on cell phones instead,” he said.
According to a joint report by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation last year, only 29 per cent of Cambodians had access to toilets – the lowest rate in the region.
The problem is particularly acute in remote provinces. According to the 2009 Provincial Data Book for Preah Vihear, there was only one latrine for every 60 people in the province. In the provincial capital, the ratio was 14 people per latrine, but this fell to 246, 228 and 192 per latrine in Chheb, Chey Sen and Choam Ksan districts, respectively.