"Sanitation is our responsibility” – Celebrating National Sanitation Day in Cambodia

"Sanitation is our responsibility” – Celebrating National Sanitation Day in Cambodia

Just four years ago Banteay Meas district in Cambodia’s Kampot province had one of the lowest levels of sanitation coverage in the country. When the Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) programme started in January 2012, only 16% of the households in Banteay Meas had access to sanitation. Based on the latest monitoring results in November 2015, 95% of the households have now access and are using toilets and over 80,000 people are living in communes that have been declared open defecation free (ODF).

At the end of 2014, the 400 Days Countdown Campaign was launched, marking Banteay Meas’ progress towards becoming the first fully ODF district in Cambodia by the end of 2015. In total, 11 full communes, including 67 villages in Banteay Meas have now been officially declared ODF and Banteay Meas on track to reach it’s ambitious goal.

To celebrate National Sanitation Day and mark the district’s success, the Ministry of Rural Development, together with SNV and other development partners, local authorities and communities, came together in Banteay Meas in November 2015. Over 1,300 people, including the Minister of Rural Development, directors of the department of rural development (PDRD), provincial governors and deputy governors from all Cambodia’s 24 provinces, district governors from Kampot province, all the commune and village chiefs from Banteay Meas district, teachers, school children, development partners, NGOs and members of the local community joined this special event.

“The lessons from the success of Banteay Meas district have reinforced our understanding that we need an integrated approach to reach universal access to rural sanitation that includes leadership at the province, district, commune and village levels which drives and supports the communities’ own sense of motivation and commitment to become and sustain ODF,” SNV Cambodia country director Erik van Waveren said at the event. “By supporting a district-wide, local-government-led approach, rather than focusing on individual villages or communes, progress has been able to build momentum and benefit from economies of scale.”

Emphasising the theme of this year’s National Sanitation Day - “Sanitation is our responsibility”  - Mr van Waveren emphasised the importance of community responsibility for sanitation in Banteay Meas district achieving its remarkable results. “The hard work and good cooperation of all the stakeholders and strong commitment and leadership of the district authorities, commune council and village chiefs, as well as the hard work and important role of the schools, pagodas and health centres in promoting access to improved sanitation and hygiene practices have been vital.”

Speaking at the event, His Excellency Chea Sophara, Minister of the Ministry of Rural Development praised the Banteay Meas’s achievements as a model to be replicated in other parts of the country and called for greater effort and support from all those involved. “Relevant ministries, development partners, civil society, and the private sector need to work together to strengthen human capacity, management, roles and responsibilities at the national and subnational levels to create a better enabling environment for the private sector, improve monitoring and evaluation systems, develop more affordable technologies and options, and encourage more participation from poor families,” His Excellency said.

UNICEF Deputy Representative, Natascha Paddison, called for concerted efforts and increased investment to reach the country’s target of every citizen having access to sanitation by 2025. “Sanitation must be a priority in provincial, district and commune level investment plans, and parents and community members need to invest in improving sanitation in their homes and communities, and to share this effort with their families and neighbours. Everyone has a role to play,” Ms. Paddison said.

“I learned that many communes in Banteay Meas have already become open defecation free, and soon the whole district hopes to become open defecation free: the first in Cambodia! May I take this opportunity to request you all to give a big round of applause for this success. Your determination has contributed to make your family members and your district and example for the rest of the country. And if Banteay Meas district can be close to achieving ODF status, why is not possible for other districts in the country?”

The Minister of Rural Development, SNV Cambodia country director, development partners and participants at the event signed the commitment board, signifying their determination to continue to work together towards the vision of Royal Government of Cambodia to achieve universal access to improved sanitation in Cambodia by 2025. Following the ceremony, SNV in cooperation with the local government partners organised field visits to three villages in Trapeang Sala Khang Lech commune – the first commune in Cambodia to be officially declared ODF in October 2013.

Achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030 is one of the most ambitious targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Royal Government of Cambodia has set even more ambitious target to achieve universal access to rural sanitation in Cambodia by 2025.