Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

For every child, a healthy environment.

Mara, 5, is having her daily shower after school.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Fani Llaurado


Providing children with clean drinking water and adequate toilets, and instilling in them the need to wash their hands with soap and water, are the most effective ways of saving their lives and ensuring they develop into healthy adults. Diarrhoea, which often results from poor sanitation and hygiene, is a major cause of children’s illnesses, including stunting and impaired brain development.

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

One in three Cambodians uses water from a non-improved drinking source, which means they do not hygienically separate human waste from human contact. Seven in ten pre-primary schools do not have access to WASH facilities, and one in two rural healthcare facilities does not have sufficient water all year around.

Children continue to be stunted and to die from preventable sanitation- and water-related causes, because they do not have access to clean water, toilets and hand-washing facilities in their communities and schools. Particularly in rural areas, people have very limited understanding of the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene.

All children have the right to clean water and basic sanitation, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


UNICEF focuses on improving water, sanitation and hygiene for under-served children and their communities, who are often poor, geographically or socially marginalized, and live in areas vulnerable to environmental risks, like flooding and drought.

Improving WASH for children in Cambodia requires a concerted, holistic and systematic approach. Concerted because making progress in each aspect depends on the presence of the other–without toilets, water sources become contaminated, and without clean water, basic hygiene is not possible. Holistic because sustainable improvements can only be achieved if interventions in WASH, health and education are interlinked and mutually reinforced. And systematic because the issue needs to be tackled at home, in schools and in health centres, from the national to the local level.

Guided by the vision of universal access to WASH by 2030, together with the government and other partners we work to improve WASH financing and coordination. We gather evidence by collecting and analyzing data to inform how we should implement programmes, and we make villages more resilient to climate shocks by analyzing the risk of disaster and developing WASH-specific preparedness plans. We identify sanitation and water products through the private sector, and we bring these to the market.

Students pick up trash at Kampong Thmar Primary School, Kang Sao village, Santok district, Kampong Thom commune, Kampong Thom province on July 6, 2018.
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

Boost access to safe sanitation and hygiene

UNICEF works with the government to upgrade water sources and develop new sources that are resilient to droughts and floods. We work in communities that rely on rivers, wells and ponds, that have water systems contaminated by pollutants such as E. coli bacteria and arsenic, or where water systems are unusable due to disrepair.

We also work to bring basic sanitation and hygiene facilities to homes, schools and health centres, so that children can live, study and access health services in a safer environment.

A healthy and clean school environment, backed up by information about proper hygiene, encourages students to stay in school and motivates them to develop sound hygiene practices that they can share with their families. UNICEF continues to work with the government to make sure Cambodian schools have clean water, separate toilets for boys and girls, adequate facilities where adolescent girls can manage their menstruation, and hand-washing basins.

UNICEF’s work on hygiene and sanitation helps girls go to school and stay in school.

It can be particularly difficult for children with disabilities to use the toilet at school. Often, if the facilities are not disability-friendly and accessible, children have to crawl across the floor, which is filthy and unhygienic. But worse, it is humiliating and it strips children of their dignity. Some children with disabilities minimize the need to use the toilet by not eating or drinking at school, which can lead to illness. We work to improve WASH facilities in schools across the country so that all children can use them, regardless of their physical ability.


Help people understand the value of using toilets, clean water and soap

Only a change in behaviour can make safe WASH practices truly sustainable. Generating awareness is a large part of UNICEF’s work in achieving a clean, safe environment for children to thrive. We share information so that people will understand the importance of using hygienic WASH practices, and to bridge the gap between building toilets and hand-washing basins and people actually using them.

UNICEF has joined forces with the government and other partners to transform the way people think about hygiene and to ignite a change in the way they use WASH facilities. We do this through communication efforts that motivate children and their communities to transform the way they currently approach sanitation and hygiene, and to seek safe water and sanitation facilities at home, at school and in the community.