Strengthening accountability for better water service in Cambodia

4 min read
A person in Cambodia fixing a tab
Image: WaterAid/Remissa Mak

Read the full Evidence Brief here

WaterAid is working to ensure that people in rural Cambodia have better access to safe water. Our efforts are focused on addressing challenges in the water supply sector, where responsibilities are often unclear, leading to frustrations among supply users.

The Cambodian government aims to provide safe water to all rural residents by 2025. Recent data shows that about 82.7% of rural households already have access to improved drinking water sources. While many use wells and handpumps, 15% benefit from piped water networks, which has the potential for safe, quality, affordable water. More households are connecting to these networks for activities like bathing and washing, showing a growing reliance on piped water.

However, managing piped water services in rural areas involves navigating a complex web of policies and regulations. Responsibility is divided among various government bodies and this fragmentation often results in gaps in oversight and communication, hindering effective solutions to water supply issues.

WaterAid has responded to these challenges by partnering with the Cambodian Water Supply Association since 2020. Together, we’ve developed strategies to enhance accountability and improve the quality of water services for rural communities.

The approach began with clarifying roles and responsibilities outlined in national laws and policies. WaterAid created easy-to-understand materials, including posters, to educate district authorities, commune councils and licensed water operators about their specific duties.

One significant initiative was the introduction of a scorecard system. This allowed water service providers, local officials, and community members to evaluate each other's performance based on their legal obligations. WaterAid facilitated town-hall-style meetings across five districts, where participants could discuss performance and devise action plans to address shortcomings.

Importantly, WaterAid partnered with an organisation for people with a disability to ensure the process was inclusive – people with a disability contributed to the development of the scoring criteria, and gave feedback and insight about how water services could better accommodate the needs of people with a disability.

The impact of these efforts has been notable between 2020 and 2024:

  • Improved Water Services: Following community feedback sessions, water operators and district authorities took proactive steps to enhance service delivery. This included better communication with customers about service interruptions and quicker responses to equipment breakdowns.
  • More satisfied water service users: Community satisfaction with water services rose from 70% to 85% after the implementation of the scorecard system, reflecting improved service quality.
  • Increased Budget Allocation: District and commune authorities, as well as water operators, adjusted their budgets to address identified needs, demonstrating a commitment to improving water supply services
  • Community Investments: All 21 participating communes allocated at least 30% of their social service budgets to water supply and sanitation. In one district, funding was provided to subsidise new piped water connections for the poorest households and those with disabilities.
  • Financial Assistance: Four piped water operators reduced connection fees by up to 50% for the poorest households, making water access more affordable.
  • Enhanced Collaboration: There is now more regular communication and coordination among district authorities and water operators. Operators are more open to inspections and quality tests, fostering better oversight.
  • Broader Impact: The success of the accountability scorecard led to its adaptation for use beyond water services. For instance, Teuk Phos district government applied a similar tool to improve accountability in other public services.
  • Clarity in Responsibilities: Stakeholders involved in water supply services now have a clearer understanding of their roles and obligations. This has led to better enforcement of license agreements, increased spot checks on operators by district authorities, and enhanced promotion of water connections at the community level.

Next Steps

Looking ahead, WaterAid plans to build on these achievements with support from partners and funders. Future efforts will focus on:

  • Sustaining Accountability Practices: Continue to engage water supply actors to identify and resolve issues independently of WaterAid’s direct involvement.
  • Expansion and Scaling: Extending the scorecard approach to involve more water operators across additional provinces and districts.
  • Influence on Policies: Working closely with the Cambodian Water Supply Association to integrate lessons learned into government policies and guidelines. This includes developing practical guides, communication materials, and training manuals.
  • Capacity Building: Creating programs to address common challenges water operators face, such as technical and managerial issues.
  • Technological Integration: Exploring opportunities to integrate smart technologies like water meters and mobile apps to enhance the scorecard system and improve communication between service users and providers.

By continuing these efforts, WaterAid aims to ensure sustained improvements in water service delivery across rural Cambodia, ultimately contributing to better quality of life for its residents.

Read the full Evidence Brief here