Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urged the Ministry of Rural Development and international donors to improve the country’s sanitation coverage, which reportedly is the worst in Southeast Asia.
Compared to only 9 percent in 1998, now 16 percent of people living in rural areas have access to proper sanitation, the prime minister said during his keynote speech at the opening of the two-day Cambodia Rural Sanitation Forum in Phnom Penh.
“The lack of sanitation is one of the factors leading to poverty and hinders the government’s national economic development efforts,” Hun Sen said, adding that Cambodians need to rethink their views on sanitation.
“Improvement in the health situation does not require complicated modern technology and a lot of money,” he said. “It should start with what people already have and understand to change their living habits.”
According to a report issued by the Ministry of Rural Development at the forum, Cambodia has by far the lowest sanitation coverage in Southeast Asia. Laos’ system covers 30 percent of its population, Vietnam’s covers 61 percent and Burma’s 77 percent, the report states. Neighboring Thailand’s coverage is 99 percent.
Without proper sanitation control, Cambodians will continue to suffer from such diseases as diarrhea; schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease; and trachoma, an infectious eye disease, the report states.
“Nationally, almost 10 million people defecate indiscriminately, because they have no way to safely dispose of their excreta,” the report said. “Provision of latrines and simple hygiene behavior changes like hand washing will result in a significant reduction in the disease burden of Cambodia.”
The report added that at Cambodia’s current rate of sanitation improvement, it will take 150 years before 100 percent of the population has proper access to sanitation systems.
Yim Chhay Ly, secretary of state for the Ministry of Rural Development, told the forum that residents in rural communities need to be educated about proper sanitation.
“Cambodia’s rural population lacks knowledge and practices sanitation poorly,” he said.
Dr Chea Samnang, director of the Ministry of Rural Development’s health care department, told a reporter at the conference that although he is hopeful that the country can improve its sanitation, it is sometimes difficult to change people’s attitudes on the subject.
“One time we built a toilet for a family and they did not use it,” he said. “Instead they kept a rice paddy in the toilet room.”
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