Cambodia's Banteay Meas has continued its sprint towards becoming the nation's first fully open-defecation-free (ODF) district in 2015, with its 6th and 7th communes celebrating their ODF status on January 17. Formerly one of the districts with the lowest levels of access to improved sanitation nationwide, Banteay Meas has now reached nearly 81% sanitation coverage as a result of SNV’s Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) programme.

Representatives of the latest ODF communes, Touk Meas Khang Koeut and Banteay Meas Khang Leck, joined local and national government representatives, including Director of the Ministry of Rural Development’s Department of Rural Health Care, Mr Chreay Pom, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) National Coordinator Dr. Chea Samnang, SNV programme staff, donor representatives and local dignitaries to celebrate the achievement with speeches, a blessing by local monks and performances from commune schoolchildren.

Speaking at the event, John Stone, founder of the Stone Family Foundation (SSH4A programme donor), shared his pleasure in the progress made in Banteay Meas since his last visit to the district for the declaration of the first ODF village  in January 2013, since when seven communes (incorporating 41 villages) have been declared ODF. “This is a great achievement for the programme, and this achievement has come from all of you – from the community, the local and provincial authorities and from SNV,” Mr Stone said. “The Stone Family Foundation is providing funding, but the success of the programme depends on the community and all of you. If you did not work well together we would not be having this celebration, so I would like to congratulate you all on your success today.”

At the start of the SSH4A intervention only 16% of the households in Touk Meas Khang Koeut commune and 14% in Banteay Meas Khang Leck had access to toilets and open defecation was considered standard practice. Now all 3,021 households living in 15 villages in these two communes have access to and are using toilets. Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) National Coordinator Dr Chea Samnang underlined the commitment of the national authorities to achieving full ODF status in Banteay Meas. “I was very impressed to see the strong commitment of local authorities and the people living in these two communes to reaching ODF [status] in their community,” Dr. Chea said. “This is a historic moment for Cambodia and Banteay Meas district will be a champion of reaching ODF in the country.” 

Praising the commitment of the local community to achieving ODF status, Director of the Kampot Provincial Department of Rural Development, Mr Seng Chhaung, also highlighted the effort made by school directors, teachers, local officials and SNV to improve sanitation and hygiene in the district’s schools. All 46 primary schools and 12 secondary schools in Banteay Meas now have access to improved sanitation and adequate hand washing facilities with soap. “The PDRD will continue its technical support to the community and cooperate with local authorities, schools and pagodas at district and commune level to achieve the plan of full district ODF by the end of year 2015,” Mr Seng said.

SNV’s Global Managing Director for Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Megan Ritchie noted that while 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of SNV worldwide, and the 10th anniversary of the organisation’s work in Cambodia, it would be an even bigger year of celebration for Banteay Meas as it achieved ODF status. “At the end of 2014 we started the 400 Days Countdown Campaign, marking Banteay Mea’s progress towards becoming the very first fully ODF district in Cambodia by 2015,” SNV Water, Sanitation & Hygiene sector leader Petra Rautavuoma said. “As of today we have 348 days to go!”

Announcing the launch of the second phase of the SSH4A programme with the support of the Stone Family Foundation, Ms Rautavuoma emphasised the importance of equitable and sustainable access to sanitation. “The main objective of the next phase is to improve health and quality of life for 250,000 people in three rural districts, through elimination of open defecation and equitable and sustained access to improved sanitation and hygiene practices,” she said. “In the second phase we will continue to further develop and test strategies and mechanisms to eliminate inequalities in access and ensure that the poorest and most socially excluded groups in Cambodia have access to improved sanitation and hygiene.”

Stage II of the SSH4A programme will support local authorities to scale up the comprehensive SSH4A approach to two new districts – Chum Kiri and Basedth – building on the results and lessons of the first phase to develop province-wide scaling up strategies. SSH4A II will connect the knowledge gained from its work to wider WASH sector discussions at the national and international level, while continuing to develop and test strategies and mechanisms to eliminate inequalities in sanitation access.