The problems of a lack of access to clean water and sanitation was one of the leading causes of stunting and wasting in children under five years old, which had led to the government and relevant organisations setting 2023 goals of reducing the two categories, according to the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD).

The CARD’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and Nutrition Sub-Working Group – known as W&N SWG – organised a study tour in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces from May 24-27 as part of the “Nutrition-Sensitive Water Supply, improved Sanitation, and Hygiene services” project.

Speaking during the four-day tour, W&N SWG co-chair Chea Samnang said clean water and sanitation shortages were some of the causes that 32 per cent of children under 5 years old were stunted, and 10 per cent were wasted.

Samnang mentioned four key indicators that are obvious problems in the shortages of clean water and sanitation.

“TWENTY-NINE per cent of rural households have the habit of open defecation. The disposal of infants or young children’s faeces and the improper putting of animal faeces is often the source of disease transmission to human hands as well as soil, water and food,” Samnang said.

He added that 41 per cent of rural households had no access to a basic water supply, while 84 per cent did not yet have access to a safe water supply and 23 per cent had no hand-washing facilities with water and soap.

He said the W&N SWG had set the 2023 national goals of reducing the stunting rate of children under 5 from 32 to 25 per cent in 2023. The rate of wastedness would be reduced from 10 to eight per cent by 2023.

Samnang told reporters during the study tour that the CARD aims to visit all provinces for the project.

“This year, we will have a national conference on future nutrition-sensitive targets. This will be the third, since we began the project in 2015,” he said.

UNICEF in Cambodia said the country was making steady but insufficient progress in meeting WASH targets.

It added that despite improvements in WASH systems and practices, Cambodia has the highest rate of open defecation in the region, with eight in 10 of the poorest rural Cambodians defecating out in fields, in open bodies of water, or other open spaces, rather than using a toilet.

“Children continue to be stunted and die from preventable sanitation- and water-related causes, because they do not have access to clean water, toilets and hand-washing facilities in their communities and schools. Particularly in rural areas, people have very limited understanding of the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene,” it said.