This blog is the first in a four-part series focusing on CWS water, sanitation and hygiene programs in each of four Asian countries where we work. This one focuses on Cambodia. It’s important to know that the acronym WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
CWS teams from across Asia gathered in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week (best known as the site of Angkor Wat) for what we call a learning exchange. We brought together our water, sanitation and hygiene program specialists from each country to share their challenges, celebrate their accomplishments and brainstorm together how to continue to improve our programs.
Because the gathering was held in Cambodia, it makes sense to start this blog series by focusing on our work in Cambodia. The communities we partner with here are poor, and the majority still lack safe water and access to proper sanitation. When you combine this with poor hygiene and health practices, they can lead to very serious health problems.
As in many other places in Asia, Cambodia was not able to meet its Millennium Development Goals. The Goals aimed to increase rural people’s access to safe water (50 percent) and improved sanitation (30 percent) by 2015. The goals have been restated since 2015; the new target is 100 percent coverage by 2025. The CWS Cambodia team, along with our trusted partners, will build on past WASH successes that we’ve had by teaming up with families in order to keep pursuing improvements.
During our WASH learning exchange last week, we heard from one of our colleagues from a Cambodian partner about how proud he is to be part of the team that is enabling many positive impacts on the lives of the rural poor in Cambodia. He told us how families who benefit from CWS partnership have shared their stories of positive impact on their lives. For example, they now have safe water and better hygiene. One thing this means is that they are sick less often, so they have the time and good health to work and earn a better living. And, even better, they don’t need to spend as much money as in the past for clinic visits and medicines, so they can spend more of their precious earnings for food and to meet other family necessities.
We spent some time last week sharing our successes. One of these is that CWS work in Cambodia has been recognized and appreciated by the Cambodian government for our contribution to better lives in rural Cambodia, where our collaborative partnership with the Ministry of Rural Development has led to many improvements. These include a water quality testing laboratory in one southern province and a Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage manual. Of course, it also means knowledge and skill building with government WASH colleagues and community WASH leaders, among others.
As our Cambodia team reflected on today’s situation in our country, we talked about how we will keep working with families to foster more sustainable development that further expands and improves more people’s access to safe water and sanitation, improved hygiene and overall well being for all Cambodians. One key part of this is through a team of volunteers called Community Change Agents who are critical catalysts of change for themselves and their neighbors. They help ensure that key WASH information is understood and practiced. We are also committed to ensuring that WASH infrastructure is maintained by trained volunteer maintenance workers. These volunteers, and others, are now named in Village Action Plans, which aim to influence Commune Councils to prioritize WASH infrastructure in Commune Investment Plans (budgets). And speaking of local government investment in rural Cambodia, we’re pursuing our dream of involving private enterprise in creating a demand driven approach to improved WASH by having them, as materials’ providers and well as fellow citizens, engage community Water and Sanitation User Groups and leaders.
Our team wants to leave you with this: WASH support is a critical need in our country. The lack of safe water and proper sanitation is one of the biggest issues affecting our health, especially in the countryside and particularly among young children, whose high incidence of diarrhea and similar diseases alone account for one in five child deaths each year.
One in five. This is unacceptable. We are so glad to have learning exchanges like this one in Siem Reap with our WASH colleagues from around the region, and our colleague from the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology in Canada.
Ek Sothea is the Grant Coordinator with the CWS Cambodia team.