A study conducted by Water Aid Cambodia in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that inclusive access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is especially needed for persons with disabilities.

The report said the findings should be a driver in pushing for implementing clean water supply policy and promoting WASH for people with disabilities in Cambodia.

The report, released on September 15, was the result of a qualitative study conducted since 2021.

It selected 16 people with disabilities and four care givers in Svay Rieng and Kampong Chhnang province.

Seven expert officials at national and sub-national levels, and 10 representatives of partner NGOs working in WASH and disability also took part.

The study said that in Cambodia, nearly one third of the population did not have access to WASH at the community level, with up to 26 per cent lacking basic hygiene.

Access to WASH for people with disabilities, it found, was made difficult due to limited infrastructure and affordability, and that they often lived far from clean water sources and toilets.

“The implementation of inclusive policy commitment requires clear steps and continuity. People with disabilities face discrimination in all sectors in their lives,” it said.

Institutions working in the WASH sector needed to work towards ending such discrimination and stopping persons with disabilities being left behind, it added.

It recommended that there needed to be concerted systematic systems and more detailed strategies put in place to allow people with disabilities to better exercise their right to WASH.

Pharozin Pheng, WaterAid Cambodia equity and inclusion programme manager, said that the Translating from disability-inclusive WASH policies into practice: Lessons learnt from Cambodia report was conducted to improve the inclusion of people with disabilities into WASH policy making.

This was in line with gender and equality policies in low and middle income countries.

She said the government could mainstream inclusive WASH instruction on a larger scale.

“The findings of the study show that the possibility of accessing WASH infrastructure for persons with disabilities remains low, with care givers having less information about it.

“This research is intended to implement core human rights through WASH from the view of government officials, service providers and community members who have access to WASH,” she said.

Nguon Sophak Kanika, independent technical adviser to the WASH research, said people with disabilities had difficulties accessing WASH.

As a result they could not wash their hands as often they wanted to as they had to depend on care givers.

It was also reportedly difficult to take baths, use restrooms and do laundry.

“The respondents in this research said they wanted to have bigger restrooms for wheelchair access, while the restrooms they had used did not feature ramps.

“Moreover, they also lacked the funds for building proper WASH infrastructure,” Sophak Kanika said.

Lon Say Teng, director of the Department of Rural Healthcare at the Ministry of Rural Development, said supporting people with disabilities through WASH was important and in line with government policy.

He said people with disabilities were a vulnerable group, with the government and NGO partners actively working to ensure they had access to WASH.