Highlights from Cambodia: 2018-19

4 min read
Sokmal and Soeymom
Image: WaterAid/Remissa Mak

Our progress this year in Cambodia has reinforced the importance of the ‘sector strengthening’ approach that informs so much of our work.

Broadly speaking, this approach involves stepping back from just individual communities and influencing change from a whole range of levels. It has seen us collaborate with national and local governments, water sector staff, community groups and others who can together reach far more communities with sustainable water and toilet services than we can alone.

A great example of this has been our Civic Champions program in partnership with WaterSHED, which has delivered better results than we could have expected. This program creates a space for commune leaders to come together and learn new skills, share experiences with one another, and compete to see who can get the most toilets built in their area. Both the participants and the staff providing the training have reported an increase in their confidence, motivation and skills, which has resulted in local government staff on the whole viewing their district’s water, sanitation and hygiene issues as a higher priority. We aim to expand this program next year by introducing additional targets for water supply, hygiene and social inclusion. Our eventual goal is for this program to be owned and run by the government themselves.

At a national level, our ongoing advocacy efforts led to the development of national Cambodian guidelines relating to water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities. These guidelines outline the quality of facilities needed in healthcare centres so that nurses can deliver safer births and less infections can be spread among mothers and babies. This is something we’ve been working towards since 2015, having gradually built support among key Ministry officials over the past few years. The lack of official guidelines up until now has made it difficult for us to drive change at the pace we desire. Now that they have been endorsed, we’re working closely with the government to make sure every healthcare centre across the country has the appropriate level of water, toilet and hygiene facilities.

As we continue to advocate for better policies, particularly on behalf of the poorest and most marginalised Cambodians, we are embracing the power of storytelling. We have helped our partners—such as the Cambodian Disabled People Organization—better communicate their challenges and success stories through photos, videos and case studies, which has helped them make toilets more accessible in public and private buildings. We’ve also been working with local journalists to build their knowledge of water, sanitation and hygiene issues so that these issues are able to receive the coverage they deserve.

Another focus of ours has been building up Cambodia’s next generation of water sector leaders. One of the challenges holding back Cambodia is that its water and sanitation sectors are under-resourced and are not seen as an attractive career option for talented graduates. To address this, WaterAid has been working with our local partners to provide opportunities for students, professionals and local government officials to gain experience in water, sanitation and hygiene related fields. Through this work, we’ve been particularly mindful of ensuring women are given the opportunities to work in technical and leadership roles, where there is a great need for increased gender diversity.

Case study


Program information

Expenditure: AUD $2,709,000

List of funders
Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program
Australian Government’s Water for Women Program - Type II Research Award
Global Sanitation Fund – Plan International Australia
Grand Challenges Canada – Stars in Global Health
GIZ - The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit 
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency - SIDA
Swedish Postcode Lottery
UNICEF - Accelerating Sanitation and Water for All
H&M Foundation
NIRAS International Training Program
Corporate, foundation and supporter contributions

Locations of project
Phnom Pehn, Siem Reap, Kampot, Kratie, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Prey Veng, Tbong Khmum, Battambang

Local partners
NIRAS, Plan Cambodia International, Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Health, National Institute of Statistics, WaterSHED, WaterSHED Ventures, Rainwater Cambodia, Epic Arts, Cambodian Disabled Peoples Organisation, Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, Workers Information Centre, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Ministry of Public Works and Transport, National Institute of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, DMC, WASH Skills Development Organisation, Centre for Sustainable Water, Phnom Neang Kangrei Association, Teuk Saat 1001

This article first appeared in WaterAid Australia's Annual Report 2018-19