Using data to end open defecation in Cambodia

Every child deserves to grow up in a clean and safe environment. In communities where open defecation is practiced, children are at risk of disease.

Newly released data  confirms that Cambodia has made exemplary progress towards improving toilet use. Since 2000, Cambodia’s progress towards safer sanitation is among the fastest in the world – over half the population have stopped practicing open defecation and started using a toilet.

The data and analysis provided by the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) is a fantastic resource for us at the Country-Office level where we are working to support national targets for the elimination of open defecation by 2025 – a target date 5 years ahead of the global SDG target of 2030.

JMP data helps us identify gaps in progress, determine those at risk of being left behind, and focus UNICEF’s support. Based on past trends highlighted by the JMP, while Cambodia is overall ‘on track’ to achieve nearly universal access to basic sanitation, progress in rural areas is insufficient, and the poorest in rural areas are at risk of being left behind.

A girl walks carrying a metal container.
© UNICEF/UN049930/Cambodia/2015/PirozziA girl carries her younger sibling’s faeces to the toilet in Kang Meas District, Cambodia. Baby faeces should be disposed in a latrine or buried as soon as possible after the child defecates. Making sure that all family members use a toilet, latrine or potty (for young children) is the best way to dispose of faeces. Where there is no toilet, it should be buried.

Based on this analysis, the UNICEF team, with financial support from the UK’s Department for International Development, is working with government partners, NGOs, and the private sector to target those in poor and rural households to improve basic sanitation nationwide. To do this, we are supporting three main approaches to accelerate sanitation uptake: community, market, and finance-based approaches.

The community-based sanitation approaches supported by UNICEF build on the capacity of existing local government leaders, encouraging them to match their local areas of responsibility to targets for achieving open-defecation free areas: from the village level, to larger units of commune, district and province. At each geographical level, detailed work – mapping those left behind – is followed by door-to-door and meeting-to-meeting efforts by local leaders and community volunteers to achieve results.

Woman tilting a water container over her hands
© UNICEF/UNI83485/ Cambodia/2008/NooraniA woman in a village in Kampong Speu province in Cambodia washes her hands after leaving the latrine, with water from a cement storage container.

Secondly, as part of market-based approaches to sanitation improvement, UNICEF is increasingly engaging with sanitation markets and exploring options for market-strengthening activities to improve the availability and price of toilet supplies and installation services to reduce supply-side cost and availability barriers.

Third, around sanitation financing, UNICEF is building on national social protection systems that identify poor households to deliver toilet subsidies through private sector suppliers to the poorest households. This enables them to buy toilets at a discount, while maintaining market-based sales, delivery channels, and commercial viability.

Bringing these approaches together, UNICEF works with partners to strengthen sanitation-enabling systems – the policies, strategies, monitoring, and state financing systems that make up the regulatory environment – to shape progress and include those who may be left behind.

JMP data on sanitation progress from countries close to Cambodia is also useful to highlight the challenges in achieving the last mile in sanitation improvements, and the importance of focusing on reaching late adopters.

Future JMP data and analysis will allow us to continually monitor Cambodia’s sanitation progress and engage national authorities to refine approaches to accelerate the achievement of national targets, and make sure that every child in Cambodia can grow up in a clean and safe environment.


Samuel Treglown is WASH Manager at UNICEF Cambodia.

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