Decades of conflict destroyed much of Cambodia’s water supply infrastructure, which declined in efficiency from the 1960s. By 1993, only 25 percent of Phnom Penh’s residents had access to piped water. Investments since the mid-1990s have helped provide cleaner water supplies for many in Cambodia—about 35-40 percent of the country now gets its water from improved drinking water sources like new rural wells and a rebuilt urban piping infrastructure.
Unfortunately, improvements in proper sanitation systems have not kept pace. Indeed, a lack of sanitation continues to present a major public health menace. About ten percent of Cambodian children die before they are a year old. Many of these deaths are due to preventable, waterborne diseases or mosquito-driven ailments spawned by the nation’s poor sanitation facilities.
It is estimated by UNICEF that rural sanitation coverage in Cambodia is only eight percent, making it the lowest in the region and the second lowest outside of Africa. In the absence of sanitation facilities, most rural dwellers use rice paddies, banana groves, and other water sources to dispose of their own waste—thus polluting the water on which they depend.
The nation’s Ministry of Rural Development, backed by many international partners, has attacked this problem with a rural water supply and sanitation initiative. In addition to digging new wells, hundreds of family and school-based latrines have been built within the last few years to provide safe access to sanitation for rural Cambodians.
In addition to improving access to water and sanitation facilities, aid organizations also have stepped up efforts to teach young Cambodians about the need for proper hygiene practices to protect them from disease. Studies show that the simple practice of washing hands with soap can reduce diarrheal diseases by over 40 percent.
As awareness about the connection between clean water, sanitation, and hygiene grows in rural Cambodia, further efforts to protect against water-related diseases spread by insects are also on the rise. Mosquito screens are being installed on latrine pipes to ensure that the breeding insects within cannot escape to infect humans. Household mosquito nets have also been marketed to protect individuals and reduce the spread of disease.
Lastly, enclosed water tanks are being employed to reduce mosquito breeding in stored water, and filtration systems are increasingly used to remove any parasites or microbials from that same water before it is consumed.