Making inroads in Cambodia

In Cambodia, over a quarter of the population lives in challenging environments such as floating villages.


8 Jun 2016 | AU

In Cambodia, over a quarter of the population lives in challenging environments such as floating villages.

Building safe and sustainable sanitation systems is a huge challenge for any poor community, but where homes are built over water the technical obstacles are even greater.

More than 100,000 people live on Tonle Sap Lake – Southeast Asia’s largest body of fresh water. When they need to go to the toilet, they take a boat to a secluded spot, go into surrounding forest, or at night may squat off the side of their floating house. People use this same lake water to wash dishes and clothes, and young children swim in it.

A social enterprise called Wetlands Work has created a sanitation solution with lots of potential. With funding from Grand Challenges Canada, WaterAid is partnering with them to test the HandyPod with Tonle Sap’s floating communities.


The HandyPod is a basic water-purifying system resembling a floating garden. This small man-made wetland of water hyacinths helps make toilet waste safe enough to pass into the lake without causing any harm.

For the HandyPod to succeed, people need to understand the benefits of buying their own toilet.

WaterAid and Wetlands Work are working with the communities to change unhealthy habits, and helping local businesses to sell the Pods.

If the Pods are successful, the next step will be to get the government and private sector to roll them out to challenging environments across the country.

As testament to the work, Wetlands Work was a finalist in the inaugural Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Civil Society Innovation Award 2016 for its HandyPod. Click here to watch a film about the HandyPod.

This is exciting as Cambodia is one of the newest countries where WaterAid is working. In addition to partnering on the HandyPod we are doing lots of other work in Cambodia.

Gender equity, disability and citizen action have been the focus of our initial work in Cambodia to support the government’s ambitious goal for universal water and sanitation coverage by 2025.

We have been working with the government on national guidelines for inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene, to ensure these services are available to all irrespective of disability, gender and status. We are now educating community members throughout Cambodia about the guidelines through creative video and drama performances.

We have also been working with underprivileged people in urban communities in Siem Reap to trial the effectiveness of citizen action techniques to encourage community lobbing of local governments for better water, sanitation and hygiene services. 

Many health care facilities in Cambodia have ageing and dilapidated water and sanitation services. In the health area we are supporting a baseline assessment of water, sanitation and hygiene services in healthcare facilities in three provinces and will provide technical support and training to government to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into health facilities.

HandyPod diagram