Local governance


Improving water supply

Spotlight on sanitation and hygiene

Local governance a key to child rights


Improving water supply

© UNICEF Cambodia

Access to safe and sustainable drinking water and improving hygiene is central to the health and well-being of a community, especially for its children, limiting the potential for exposure to disease. In Cambodia, that access remains a niggling challenge for families based in rural areas where polluted ponds and streams remain the main source of water for cleaning, bathing and drinking.

Although an increasing number of rural households are securing adequate water supplies, ensuring water quality is an attendant a challenge. Water contaminated by feces, or polluted as a result of mining and other industrial activities, leads to illness and death among Cambodia’s children. Meanwhile, naturally occurring water contaminants, such as arsenic, continue to poison Cambodia’s water supply, especially in the lowland areas near the Mekong River and its major tributaries. Because it has no taste or smell, arsenic is an especially insidious and imperceptible poison that can cause a litany of irreversible health complications, including cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney, as well as skin lesions and changes in pigmentation.

An estimated 1,600 villages in seven provinces have been identified as being at risk for arsenic contamination. Approximately 2.25 million people live in these areas.


  • Support of government efforts in establishing a national strategy for rural water supply, sanitation and hygiene, featuring programmes that increase access to improved sources of drinking water, such as construction of water wells and facilities in villages, and setting that as a standard at schools to ensure adequate water supply for drinking and hand-washing.
  • Support of the government’s National Strategic Action Plan for Arsenic Mitigation, which tests wells for contamination and educates communities about the dangers of arsenic. In addition, affected communities receive assistance in establishing alternative water sources, such as small-scale piped water systems, rainwater tanks, ceramic water filters and shallow wells.
  • Advocacy to commune councils toward strengthening community engagement in water supply improvement through Water and Sanitation Users Groups focused on promoting use and maintenance of the facilities.


An increasing number of communities are successfully dodging disease through increased access to safe and sustainable drinking water from 21,000 new wells built since 1983, serving approximately 420,000 families. Children benefit from improved learning environments as approximately 61 per cent of primary schools in the 2007/2008 school year secured access to clean water. A national strategic plan for arsenic mitigation has also led to early detection, with testing of 30,500 wells in high-risk provinces completed by 2007.






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