Svay Rieng has become the first province to stop open defecation due to the commitment of the provincial and local authorities in raising awareness among the populace, according to the provincial Department of Rural Development.

Department director Sam Nito said on January 20 that Svay Rieng had succeeded in becoming the first province to stop open defecation. This success was due to the commitment of the authorities at all levels, as well as the support of partner organisations, but was especially because of the participation of the people, he said.

“It was important that we educated the people about rural hygiene and the importance of constructing toilets in order to break the habit of defecating in the forest. People understood the lessons well, and most of them constructed their own toilets,” he said.

He said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had provided assistance through the NGO iDE, which provided resources that helped poor families build toilets. Authorities also explained to residents why they needed to change their defecation habits at the local level.

“IDE provided [each] poor Category I household 100,000 riel [$25] and poor Category II family 80,000 riel to build toilets,” he said.

Nito said it was not just USAID that had helped Svay Rieng, but many other sources of assistance had made the work successful. These included UNICEF; WATERAID; Plan International Cambodia; ICC; iDE; Clear Cambodia; SSO; Child Fund Cambodia; Cambodian People with Disabilities; 1001 Water Supply; and Mekong Plus Cambodia.

According to Nito, the national goal of eliminating open defecation nationwide by 2025 will be successful. With the efforts of all the leaders of the ministries, provinces, departments, as well as village, commune, district and partner organisations, even during the Covid-19 crisis, the work went smoothly.

“Covid-19 was not an obstacle to rural sanitation education. It was actually an opportunity that motivated us to do more, especially regarding hygiene, the importance of hand washing and educating people to understand the benefits of using toilets,” he said.

A national working group consisting of the Ministry of Rural Development, the Department of Rural Health Care and partner organisations has set up a commission to verify Svay Rieng province’s claim, after it claimed to have stopped 100 per cent of open defecation on October 30, 2021, according to Nito.

He said the commission verified on January 14 that Svay Rieng had achieved its goal and become the first province to eliminate open defecation. However, the official letter has not been issued yet.

Kandieng Reay commune chief Nguon Sat said on January 20 that based on previous inspections, there were a few people who were defecating in the open. Then, due to the continuous publicity, many people began building their own toilets. Now, there is no longer any sign of open defecation in his commune, she said.

“Now, when walking down the street or through the village, there is no smell. Nowadays, even a two-year-old child would not defecate outside the toilet,” she said.

Chhorn Peng, a resident in Romduol district’s Svay Chek commune, said on January 23 that his commune no longer had anyone using the forest, as everyone had their own toilet.

He said the toilet awakening was not entirely due to the advertisements and education of the authorities. Some was due to the encouragement of villages who had gone to work in factories in Phnom Penh.

“Children often go to work in the factories in Phnom Penh, and they never defecate in the forest or the fields in the capital. When they return home, they urge their mothers to build toilets. In the past, people went to the forest to defecate,” he said.

Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district has also achieved a 100 per cent end to open defecation because people are becoming more aware of health and hygiene.

Speaking at a ceremony to announce the cessation of open defecation at the district level in Khsach Kandal district on January 21, provincial deputy governor Nuth Puth Dara said people in the district are highly aware of health and hygiene.

“They have stopped defecating in public places and turned to using toilets 100 per cent of the time.”

Puth Dara said local people do not practise open defecation and all families teach their children to use their own toilets or shared ones. District communities had also initiated activities, both formal and informal, that prevented open defecation.

Dara urged the authorities to look more closely at the problem of people living on the water and the poor who could not afford to build toilets by finding partners or help from organisations who would cooperate with them to build toilets.

Khsach Kandal district governor Bun Pheng said at the ceremony that the district has completely eliminated open defecation. The district, which has over 30,000 houses in 93 villages, has nearly 30,000 private toilets and more than 600 shared ones.