A reason to celebrate
Rumdoul District achieves Open Defecation Free status
On Wednesday 31st July, Rumdoul district was a cacophony of colour and noise. National flags lined the entrance as hundreds of school children made their way inside the grounds, followed closely by a procession of traditional dancers and the Secretary of State. Over 1,000 people chatted excitedly as revered monks, the Ministry of Rural Development Department of Rural Health Care, the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), District and Provincial administration, local councilors, leaders, UNICEF and partner organisations took their seats on stage.
This historic day was a celebration - Rumdoul district is the third in Cambodia to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. This means 100% of families are using latrines. “This is an impressive achievement for Rumdoul District, and a milestone for Cambodia on the path to achieving the Royal Government of Cambodia’s vision of eliminating open defecation by 2025”, said Erna Ribar, UNICEF’s Chief of Social Policy and Research.
Around the world, 673 million people still defecate in the open– resulting in the death of a child every two minutes. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. For Cambodia to become free from open defecation by 2025, a new district must now be declared ODF every two weeks.
The last six months in Rumdoul have been a race to close the last mile. The district has overcome challenges including educating older generations and some reluctance of single-person households to invest in a latrine for themselves. It is evident that Rumdoul’s success has come down to leadership and commitment at every level - from national down to local villagers themselves. Key individuals such as Ms Saroernm, the Commune Councilor for Women and Children, have been working around the clock to educate households on the dangers of open defecation to human health. She explained her feelings of pride because “80% of people she visited decided to build the latrine” and she has seen the benefit for these families herself when following up. The village chiefs and sanitation focal points identified the poorest households to development partners and commune councilors. Different groups worked together to encourage households to invest in their latrines, and their futures. This collective work created an enabling environment for attitude and behavior change in sanitation.
The ID-poor programme has been instrumental in Rumdoul’s achievement. Theng, pictured above, is an ID-poor 1 card holder and received a $25 subsidy to build her latrine while using local materials to complete the structure. When asked how she felt about owning her own toilet, she said: “I feel very happy, and it’s convenient for me to use at night”. The ID-poor programme was established in 2006 by the Ministry of Planning and is a part of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s efforts to reduce poverty and support the socioeconomic development of the country. This targeted support for the poor has ensured no one has been left behind.
Bringing feelings of joy, pride and safety, all citizens of Rumdoul District are using latrines for the first time. “I am very proud of this achievement, especially of the people” said the ambitious and committed district governor. Rumdoul’s success demonstrates what can be done in other districts with strong leadership and excellent community-based sanitation work. Under the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) funding, UNICEF, in collaboration with iDE, has been supporting a total of five districts in Svay Rieng. Working alongside authorities and the private sector, Rumdoul District has created an enabling environment for planning, coordination and monitoring from provincial to village level. With the four other UNICEF-supported districts in Svay Rieng at over 90 per cent defecation free, Mr Keo Hak, the Sanitation Champion of the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD), is pushing to achieve at least two more ODF districts by next year. There are even aspirations for Rumdoul to become Cambodia’s first ODF+plus district with improved sanitation and an environment which is free from animal feces and garbage waste.
The celebrations, which reflect the current ODF momentum in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in the country, carried a message that demands sanitation for all. This message emphasises that no citizen of Cambodia should be left behind.