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Public defecation imperils health of rural villagers: govt

Public defecation imperils health of rural villagers: govt

The Ministry of Rural Development hopes more toilets in rural areas will cut the accumulation of human waste in fields and public areas

GROWING concern over sanitary conditions in rural areas has led the government to step up efforts to improve good hygiene practices.

Chea Samnang, director of the Rural Healthcare Department at the Ministry of Rural Development, said only 16 percent of rural people have access to toilets, compared with 99 percent in Thailand, 61 percent in Vietnam and 30 percent in Laos.

"You can imagine how many tonnes of faeces are accumulating in public areas," Chea Samnang said, adding that even a small amount of human waste poses grave health risks.

"Just one gram of faecal matter can contain up to 10 million virus cells," Chea Samnang said. "We have to raise awareness of sanitation and good hygiene in rural communities."

Hilda Winarta, project officer for water and environmental sanitation at UNICEF, said rural villagers need better education about the hazards of leaving human waste in public areas.

"Low sanitation and hygiene in Cambodia is a big problem," Winarta said. "Human waste will flow into the water, food and finally into the body."

Chea Samnang said a 2007  report by the ministry showed that only 3,500 toilets were built per year in rural areas, but that nearly 58,000 are needed to keep pace with increases in population.

 The ministry set a target of 30 percent access to toilets and as much as 50 percent access to safe water by the year 2015. "It is clear that our  efforts must  improve," Chea Samnang said.

Winarta said simple toilets can cost as little as US$10, but that changing the habits of villagers has proven difficult.

"It is hard to convince people to believe us. They think toilets will cost hundred of dollars."   

She said the ministry, with  UNICEF and other partners, have visited communities in 12 provinces and have implemented new sanitation projects in 400 villages since 2006.

A World Health Organisation report from 2007 said 10,600 people died that year from diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation, inadequate fresh water supplies and poor personal hygiene.