Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

UNICEF Country Programme 2019–2023, for every child, a healthy environment.

For every child, a healthy environment.
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado


Clean water, proper toilets and good hygiene are essential to the survival and development of children. Water and sanitation- related diseases are among the leading causes of sickness and death in children globally. WASH is also a determinant of child stunting and wasting. Good WASH can help protect children, and prevent these problems.

Cambodia is making steady but insufficient progress in meeting national and global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) targets. Despite improvements Cambodia has the highest rate of open defecation in the region, with eight in ten of the poorest rural Cambodians defecating in fields, open bodies of water, or other open spaces, rather than using a toilet. This continues to be a dangerous pratice, as human waste near waterways and houses spreads disease quickly and puts children and their families at risk.

There are stark disparities between urban and rural areas, and richer and poorer households. 40 per cent of rural Cambodians do not have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water to wash their hands, compared with 12 per cent of urban Cambodians; 81 per cent of the poorest rural Cambodians practice open defecation, compared with 11 per cent of the wealthiest rural Cambodians. Despite improvements, many people still do not know about safe WASH risk prevention practices, especially in rural areas.

Investment in rural WASH depends heavily on development partners and household contributions.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized water and sanitation as human rights, essential for the full enjoyment of life. An increasingly robust body of evidence highlights the importance of WASH:

  • WASH deprivations and vulnerabilities jeopardize progress in other critical areas, such as nutrition, health, education, gender equality and economic growth while exposing children to preventable risks in their homes, schools and in health centres;
  • The prevention and control of infectious diseases through improved WASH practices in health care facilities and communities can reduce the burden on public health systems and helps to prevent the overuse of antimicrobial drugs;
  • There is growing evidence that inadequate sanitation, water and hand washing facilities are a barrier to children attending school and performing well, especially girls. Children with disabilities find it particularly difficult to go to school if there are no accessible bathrooms, or if they are otherwise inadequate.
For every child, a healthy environment.
UNICEF Cambodia
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