More than 7 percent of all Cambodians are in “bad or very bad health,” only half the population has access to protected drinking water sources and only about 30 percent have proper toilet facilities, a report based on the 2007 Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey has found.
Using data from the 2007 survey by the National Institute of Statistics, in which 3,600 heads of households were interviewed, it was found that only 16 percent of people were thought to be in “good or very good health,” with 77 percent of “average health.”
One in three Cambodian men smoked on a daily basis, although 90 percent of Cambodians knew it was harmful to one’s health, the survey found.
Heng Taykry, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said the reported health figures were a sign of increased access to rural health centers, adding, “In 1979, about 99 percent [of people] had health problems; 7 percent reflects great success.”
According to the survey, about 500,000 people, or 4 percent of the population, were living at home with a disability such as problems with seeing, moving or hearing.
An NIS report on housing conditions also found that during the dry season about 59 percent of Cambodians use a protected drinking water source, such as a public tap or water piped into the home. But this share dropped to about 50 percent in the rainy season because of increased rainwater consumption.
About 40 percent of the respondents said they did not always treat their drinking water, while almost 70 percent of 2.8 million Cambodian households did not have proper toilet facilities, with most people relieving themselves on “open land,” according the survey.
Jan Willem Rosenboom, country team leader of the World Bank-administered Water Sanitation Program, said the numbers showed that progress in drinking water facility development is being made, but development in the field of sanitation is lagging behind.
The reason for the disparity is that promoting safe drinking water is politically more interesting than sanitation, which is seen as a private household investment decision, Mr Rosenboom said, adding that there is also a perception in rural areas that toilets are expensive.
Mr Rosenboom said there are an annual 11,000 deaths due to diarrhea in Cambodia as a direct consequence of a lack of sanitation, hygiene and safe drinking water. The economic loss due to a lack of sanitation was estimated by the Water Sanitation Project at $448 million, or 7 percent of GDP in 2005.
The report also found that 83 percent of all households depended on firewood as fuel for cooking, while only 23 percent had access to public electricity.
Prach Sun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said reducing the use of wood was important for the environment. He added that the method of using bio-gas from animal dung was increasingly being used instead of wood.
Eric Buysman, bio-gas specialist at the Renewable Energy, Environment and Solidarity Group, or GERES, said there are numerous problems connected to the use of firewood for cooking, including health effects such as lung and eye problems deriving from long-term exposure to smoke, loss of non-renewable biomass and forest resources, release of greenhouse gases and long hours spent by children and women collecting wood.