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Sanitation check-up

Children wash their hands at a playground tap at a primary school in Phnom Penh last year
Children wash their hands at a playground tap at a primary school in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Sanitation check-up

The Ministry of Education will ask government schools to provide information on toilet numbers, fresh water supply and vegetable gardens as part of efforts to tackle poor sanitation and nutrition discouraging students from attending class.

The national survey, announced yesterday, would be used to identify where improvements were most needed, said Minister for Education Hang Chuon Noron.

“If there are no toilets, students will easily drop their classes, especially girls,” he said. “Between 20 per cent to 30 per cent of schools have no access to toilets.”

According to UNICEF, lack of water and sanitation is one of the biggest issues affecting the health of children across Cambodia, with many denied the “simple dignity” of using a toilet and washing their hands with soap.

As well as addressing sanitation by increasing the number of toilets, improving water access and encouraging hand washing, Noron said the ministry would provide schools with a vegetable garden to boost students’ nutrition.

“If any school doesn’t have [facilities], we will find support for them,” he said.

With 11 toilets for more than 1,000 students, Kandal’s Hun Sen Thnal Totoeng High School is among schools suffering from a lack of facilities.

“It’s just not enough for kids to use,” former director Sar Meng, now an official in Kandal’s Ang Snoul district, said.

“They easily drop class if they don’t have toilets, and it’s not clean at all, but our kids are helping each other to clean [the toilets].”

Even worse, however, is the situation at Hun Sen Taing Kork High School in Kampong Thom’s Baray district, where 1,063 students share five toilets and one well for water.

School director Ieng Bunhan said the school was forced to restrict lavatory use to girls only.

“Men can use trees for peeing instead, because we don’t have enough toilets,” he said.

Bunhan added his school had a vegetable garden but it was not running well.

“We don’t have a fence at school to protect our plantation,” he said.

According to World Bank statistics, 75 per cent of rural Cambodians lacked access to hygienic toilets, with 66 per cent practicing open defecation. Among the consequences are high rates of diarrhoea, skin disease, respiratory illness such as pneumonia, and intestinal and other waterborne disease.

Diarrhoeal diseases alone account for one fifth of the deaths of children aged 5 and under and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually, according to UNICEF figures.

The survey, sent to both state primary and secondary schools, must be submitted by March, Naron said.

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