Banteay Meas: Cambodia’s first open defecation free district

The 4th of November 2016 is an important date on the journey to achieve 100% coverage in sanitation in rural Cambodia and one the sector should celebrate.

After almost four years of intense effort and strong partnership, the communities of Banteay Meas district in Kampot province can say they are officially open defecation free (ODF).

This is a remarkable achievement.

In 2012, just 16% of households had access to a toilet, open defecation was common and people’s awareness of the importance of improved sanitation and hygiene was low. Now, four years later, everyone in the district has access to a safe, improved latrine.

On 4 November, SNV celebrated this important milestone together with all their partners during a special event at the Samraung Kroam commune. Speaking at the event, Ms. So Sovanara, Deputy District Governor, expressed her gratitude and disbelief at the magnitude of her community’s achievement.

 “I never thought this day would come, when I think about the baseline data of 16%,” adding “today is a historical day for us as we are the only open defecation free district in the whole country.”

Her words were echoed by Ms. Pen Sophornnary, Kheng Lech Commune Chief, who stated:

“I feel very proud of this achievement, which was only made possible because of the hard work and collaboration.”

But in many ways, this is only the beginning. Sanitation is not just about access to a toilet and many initiatives have failed in the past because they have not focused on what comes next. The key now is to sustain this ODF status – something many others have struggled with.

The focus of the partners will now shift to issues of quality, equity and sustainability to ensure this achievement has a lasting and long term impact on the lives of rural Cambodians.

The success and lessons learnt in Banteay Meas provide a blueprint that can be used to develop national post ODF guidelines by the government, which will facilitate the move towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Cambodia.

For now, we can celebrate this success, but we must shift focus to ensure it is not wasted.

Find out more in this learning brief.

Witten by Marta Kasztelan