The Ministry of Rural Development on Friday announced that more than half of Cambodians now have access to improved sanitation such as latrines.
According to the ministry’s statement, 47 per cent of Cambodians now lack access to improved sanitation, compared to 89 per cent in 1990.
The goal is to bring that number down to 40 per cent by 2018 and to zero by 2025, according to Chea Sophara, the minister of rural development.
“It is our pride that in the last two decades we decreased the number of people lacking sanitation to 47 per cent in 2015,” Sophara said in a statement.
He also boasted that the number of people with access to both improved latrines and clean water had risen to 46 per cent of Cambodians, up from 23 per cent in 2008.
Natascha Paddison, a deputy representative of UNICEF, who joined the ministry in celebrating National Sanitation Day on Friday, said that the Cambodian government and relevant NGOs must work together to make the 2025 goal a reality.
“Developing sanitation is the first step for local authorities to develop [healthy habits] in their communities,” she said.
The ministry’s latest figures are more optimistic than the World Bank’s, which found that only 42 per cent of Cambodians had access to improved sanitation such as flush toilets, latrines or composting toilets in 2015.
Cambodia remains behind many of its neighbours in providing sanitation. About 71 per cent of Lao PDR’s population has access to improved sanitation, according to the World Bank numbers.
In Vietnam, that proportion reaches 78 per cent and in Thailand, 93 per cent.
Other World Bank statistics as of earlier this year showed that as many as 66 per cent of Cambodians still practise open defecation, like Seng Sors, a 47-year-old man living in Oddar Meanchey’s Samrong town.
“We live in the rural area and also in the wild,” Sors said in an interview. “We do not have a latrine because we did not have money to build it and it’s our custom to defecate anywhere.”
Consequences include high rates of diarrhoea, skin disease, respiratory illness and intestinal and other waterborne diseases.
Diarrheal infections alone kill a fifth of Cambodian children aged 5 and below, and cause an estimated 10,000 deaths annually, according to UNICEF.
However, attitudes are starting to change, as in the case of Cham San, a Kampot resident.
“Now, we changed our custom because we need sanitation,” said San, who also said she wanted to protect her daughter. “I need a latrine for [my family]. We do not go in the wild – it would be very dangerous for us.”