Water and Sanitation


Water, sanitation and hygiene delivery

Promoting key hygiene behaviours

Improving water supplies


Improving water supplies

Improving water supplies
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod

In Cambodia, access to safe and sustainable drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities remains a challenge, particularly for families in rural areas. Polluted ponds and rivers remain the main source of water for cleaning, bathing and drinking, and access to latrines and hand washing facilities in the home and at school are limited.

Although an increasing number of rural households are securing adequate water supplies, ensuring water quality is a challenge. Water contaminated by faeces or polluted as a result of mining and other industrial activities can lead to illness and death among children. Through the promotion of locally produced ceramic filters and sand filters that can treat water contaminated with bacteria, solutions have been found to obtain clean water in the home. Combined with the promotion of good household storage of water and regular hand washing with soap, this has been shown to be effective in reducing cases of diarrhoea.

Meanwhile, naturally occurring water contaminants, such as arsenic, continue to poison Cambodia’s water supply, especially in the lowland areas around the Mekong River and its major tributaries. Because it has no taste or smell, arsenic is an especially dangerous and invisible poison that can cause a series of irreversible health complications, including cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidneys, as well as skin lesions and changes in pigmentation.

An estimated 1,600 villages in six provinces and in parts of Phnom Penh have been identified as being at risk of arsenic contamination in their water supplies. Approximately 2.25 million people live in these areas.

UNICEF works with the government and development partners to seek effective means for regular and routine testing of water sources, followed by marking or closing wells that are deemed unsafe and promotion of alternative water sources, such as rainwater harvesting or pipe systems. UNICEF has piloted rainwater technologies using locally available materials, which allow water to be collected in a series of local jugs. This decreases the work load on women and children, while increasing the quantity of potentially safe water available for drinking.

what we do

  • Support government efforts in implementing a nationalstrategy for rural water supply, sanitation and hygiene, featuring programmes that promote community-based management of improved sources of drinking water, such as establishing simple water safety plans, promoting household water treatment and safe storage, and private sector involvement in provision of services. Support is also extended to primary schools and health centres to ensure adequate water supply for drinking and hand washing.
  • Support 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.
  • Advocate for commune councils to strengthen community engagement in water supply improvement through Water and Sanitation Users Groups focused on promoting use and maintenance of water facilities and protection of water sources and the surrounding environment.
  • Promote the use of user-friendly, affordable and simple water quality test-kits that make it possible for communities to evaluate their own water sources and carry out evidence-based negotiations with the authorities. This is also an opportunity for empowering communities to not only inform authorities of shortcomings, but also to notify other community members when water quality is poor and other steps that need to be taken for basic household water treatment.

Improving water supplies
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod


An increasing number of communities are successfully reducing disease through increased access to wellmaintained toilets, hand washing facilities, and safe and sustainable drinking water. Since 1983, some 21,000 new wells have been built in Cambodia, providing approximately 420,000 families with safe drinking water. A national strategic plan for arsenic mitigation has led to early detection, with testing of 37,280 wells in high-risk provinces completed by the end of 2009.

Moreover, children are benefiting from improved learning environments as approximately 66.1 per cent of primary schools in the 2009/2010 school year secured access to clean water. Access to improved sanitation facilities at school has also improved attendance, especially for girls.



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