Gov’t Wants Toilets in All Rural Homes by 2040

The low number of toilets in countryside homes has serious ramifications for health in Cam­bodia, officials said Wed­nesday during a national workshop on rural sanitation.

While 85 percent of Cambodia’s 14 million people live in rural areas, only 16 percent of rural homes have a toilet, Minister of Rural De­vel­opment Chea Sophara told the workshop.

The government, with the support of national and international or­ganizations, aims to combat this by using education programs to get toilets in at least 30 percent of rural Cambodian households by 2015, Chea Sophara said. The ultimate goal is for every rural home to have a toilet in the next 30 years, he said.

“Lack of education and practice of sanitation affects the health, economics and the dignity of humans,” he said.

Isabelle Austin, deputy representative of Unicef’s Cambodia office, reminded the audience during the workshop that the UN declared 2008 the International Year of Sa­nitation, and that there was an economic cost to the country’s lack of toilets.

“Cambodia loses 7 percent of its GDP by not investing in sanitation. This means that particularly for Cambodia, sanitation is an important investment not only in the health of children, their families and their communities, but also in laying the foundation for the social and economic development of the country,” Austin said.

Earlier this year, a five-country study by the World Bank estimated that about 10 million people are es­timated to defecate in public areas in Cambodia, and that poor san­i­tation costs the country about half a billion dollars every year. That the $448 million per year price tag translates into a per capita loss of approximately $32 in the form of health care fees, the cost of early loss of life and lost potential tourism revenues, ac­cording to the study, which was executed locally by the Eco­no­mic Institute of Cambodia.

Collaboration between the government and international organization such as Unicef is key to reaching the 30 percent toilet target goal by 2015, said Chea Samnang, director of the rural health care department at the Ministry of Rural Development. Doing so will help villagers learn about the importance of sanitation for their social and economic wellbeing, he said.

“When they understand, they will find a way to build toilets with their own abilities,” he added.

The problem is very real for Bang Ret, 32, a resident of Kampot province’s Kompong Trach district.

He said Wednesday by phone that his family of five doesn’t have a toilet. Instead they relieve themselves outside, as do most of his neighbors, which leads to privacy and cleanliness problems. Of the hundreds of families in his village, Koh Chamkar, Bang Ret estimates that at the most, 30 homes have toilets.

“They depend on the bushes,” he said.

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