Building evidence on water sanitation and hygiene experiences of people with disabilities in rural Cambodia and Bangladesh

3 min read
A landscape photo of Navy, 29, Kro Lanh Village, Orussey Commune, Kampong Tralach District, Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia, April 2019.
Image: Navy, 29, Kro Lanh Village, Orussey Commune, Kampong Tralach District, Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia WaterAid/Sokmeng You

It is estimated that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. In Cambodia and Bangladesh, as in many other developing countries, people with disabilities often experience greater challenges accessing the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services they need. A person who has difficulty seeing may experience challenges accessing their household’s toilet if it is not designed to specifically meet their needs. In 2018, WaterAid documented the challenges faced by women living with disabilities in rural Cambodia to access WASH. 

When I have my period, I need warm water for a bath. But I don’t have warm water so I access the pond, which is not really clean.

29-year-old woman who has difficulty walking, rural Cambodia.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the impact of lack of access to appropriate WASH for people with disabilities. For example, a person with difficulties hearing may miss out on critical hygiene messages where communication approaches are available in different formats. 

Now in COVID-19 pandemic, it [WASH] has become a lifesaver issue for the whole world. So, a strong commitment from the stakeholders and policymakers is required to address this challenge collaboratively to build a safe respectful and dignified society. 

Salma Mahbub, Secretary-General of Bangladesh Society for the Change and Advocacy Nexus (B-SCAN)

WaterAid’s vision of everyone everywhere having access to clean water, a decent toilet and good hygiene means that through our work, we shine a spotlight on the WASH needs and rights of people living with disabilities in low and middle-income countries. Throughout our WASH work, we aim to promote the rights of people with disabilities to access safe, accessible and appropriate WASH at home, school, when utilising healthcare services and in public spaces.

We collaborate with Disabled People’s Organisations to empower people with disabilities to drive advocacy and influencing efforts for their rights to WASH. In driving hygiene and WASH solutions we’ve advocated for inclusive and empowering Covid-19 hygiene responses. We strive to influence governments to adopt disability-inclusive WASH policies and services, for example over the past five years we have supported the Royal Government of Cambodia to develop and test ‘Disability inclusive WASH Guidelines’.

Over the past year, WaterAid is pleased to be collaborating with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on disability-inclusive WASH. The research will help WaterAid and other WASH actors to better understand the impacts that disability-inclusive WASH is having in Cambodia and Bangladesh, and to apply this evidence in other countries.

Supported by the Water for Women Fund, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this two-year research project aims to help improve disability-inclusive and gender-sensitive WASH policy-making in developing countries through policy and practical guidance for national governments.

Through this project, LSHTM and WaterAid will partner with local Disabled People’s Organisations in Cambodia and Bangladesh to document and analyse the WASH-related experience of women and men with disabilities in rural communities.  The project will explore how disability-inclusive WASH policies are implemented, and look at the gender-related issues such as women in care and support roles to family members with disabilities.

This research project is a good project for Cambodia.  All findings about difficultly, barriers, and needs of persons with disabilities, we will bring to policy makers for improvements of implementation and guidelines.  We hope to learn best practices on improving inclusive WASH from Bangladesh and share learning across both country as this is a regional project.

Ms Monika Mak, Executive Director of the Cambodia Disabled Persons Organisation

The research findings will be used to inform best practice and develop a set of practical guidance for policy-makers and practitioners. It will contribute to the building of a stronger evidence base for what works and what is blocking progress on disability-inclusive WASH in Cambodia and Bangladesh. 

These practical materials will assist governments to design inclusive and accessible hygiene approaches to respond to the COVID-19 crises in developing countries.