Marking the 2014 National Sanitation Day

by Mom Chantara Soleil

Poor sanitation and open defecation often lead to malnutrition that affects brain development in young children was the bottom line of today’s press conference organised by Plan International Cambodia in cooperation with the Ministry of Rural Development and other development partners to mark the 13 November 2014 National Sanitation Day.

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Cambodia Inter-Censal Population Survey 2013 reports that around 39% of the rural population have access to improved sanitation and 50% of rural people have access to improved water supply. About 78% of primary schools in rural areas have no access to improved water supply and 57% to improved sanitation facilities.

According to a study by the World Health Organisation, most know that poor sanitation and the practice of open defecation can cause sickness, in particular diarrhoea. Less known, however, is the central role sanitation plays in child nutrition and its impact on both their growth and cognitive development.

“Studies showed that poor sanitation is causing malnutrition in young children more than lack of food. Government, community people and development partners are not enough to achieve our ambitious goals to address sanitation issues. We need indispensible support from the media,” said Mr. Chreay Pom, from Director of Rural Health Care, Ministry of Rural Development to some 20 journalists attending the press conference here in Phnom Penh.

In its national strategic plan, Cambodia aims to increase improved sanitation access among rural population to 60% by 2018 and to ensure that everyone has sufficient and sustainable access to improved water supply and sanitation services and live in a healthy environment by 2025.

Poor sanitation and open defecation means than children by mistake often digest faeces scattered around the yard.  This may cause diarrhoea and may lead to malnutrition and stunted growth in children. Stunted growth, in turn, can slow a child’s cognitive development and stop them from reaching full potential when older.

The Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2010 indicated that in 2010, 70% of people living in rural areas were practicing open defecation. At the same time, 40% of rural children under five years old are stunted and 28% are malnourished.

Through the financial assistances, especially from the Global Sanitation Fund, Plan International Cambodia in partnership with Ministry of Rural Development has been working to address the issues in almost half of Cambodia’s provinces, where supplies of clean water and improved sanitation are most concerned.

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“Our work to improve rural access to water and sanitation is highly participatory and community-led. It does not prescribe high initial subsidies. Experience shows that high initial subsidies often led to uneven adoption, problems with sustainability and partial use of new facilities,” said Mr. Hang Hybunna – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist.

The project is designed to change attitudes, behaviour and practices by target households to achieve long term health and social benefits in these communities.

“Roughly eight million people in Cambodia practiced open defecation. Each day 3,000 tons of faeces left open in Cambodia, contributing to 448 million US dollar economic loss annually. Collective effort is needed from everyone, including the media,” said Mr. Chreay Pom.

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