WaterAid Brings Toilets to Cambodia's Floating Villages

3 min read
A floating toilet in Cambodia

In Cambodia, floating villages along the Mekong River are built directly on the water and residents face major challenges with working sanitation solutions. WaterAid is working to build toilets that can withstand these harsh conditions. The goal is to ensure that the villagers can continue their traditional way of life with access to both clean drinking water and functional toilets.  

In the floating villages, people live in houses that float on the water. There are schools and shops here, and many residents make a living from fishing or vegetable farming. However the floating villages lack safe solutions for toilets.

In many of the floating villages, there is no reliable model for toilets. Water toilets are not a sustainable solution because there is no sewage system. Instead of toilets, an opening in the floor that leads directly into the river is often used. This means bacteria from faeces goes straight into the water that residents depend on for drinking water, hygiene, leisure activities and fishing. 

A girl sits on the floor and holds a plank that she has lifted off the floor.
A hole in the floor of a floating village.
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

WaterAid works in three floating villages in the Prasat area of ​​Saangs district. It is located in the Kandal province about 63 kilometers southeast of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. A pilot project is underway in which four public floating toilets have been installed. The toilets and their tanks are floating, but receive clean water from a 50-meter-long pipe that runs from the main water on the river bank.  

"Building floating toilets is more complex than constructing them on land. In areas where sewage systems are not an option, it is crucial to find other ways to deal with human waste," explains Ekudom Sok, Program Manager at WaterAid Cambodia.

A man in glasses, a sun hat and an orange life jacket stands by a floating toilet.
Ekudom Sok, Program Manager at WaterAid Cambodia
Image: WaterAid

Under the toilets is an advanced filtration systems that reduces the environmental impact. The septic tanks, filled with coconut fibre, trap oils, fats and solids need to be emptied every two years. Additionally, floating planting beds help filter out nutrients before they reach the water. Solar cell lights contribute to safety by illuminating the area.  

A floating toilet
Image: WaterAid

To use the toilets, villagers must navigate between houses and boats, or anchor directly at the facility. The location of the toilets can change with the water level; during the dry season, it may be necessary to move them to the middle of the river. During the rainy season, when the entire river bed is flooded, the toilets can be moved closer to land again. In this way, the floating toilets are more adaptable to the seasons and climate, and are not affected as much by either floods or drought as toilet facilities on land.  

This project, co-funded by the Cambodian government and carried out in collaboration with local authorities, seeks sustainable and long-term solutions to improve sanitation and water quality in these unique environments. The goal is that every household should have access to a toilet and public places should be equipped with the necessary sanitary facilities.  

A girl squats outside a floating house and holds a basket of lotus flowers
10-year-old Chanma lives in a floating village.
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

Through the efforts, WaterAid wants to contribute to the residents of the floating villages being able to maintain their lifestyle while gaining access to basic human needs such as clean water and toilets, which improves the health and well-being of both the community and the individual.