Cambodia's Banteay Meas district had reason to celebrate on 1 December 2014, with the official declaration of the district's fourth and fifth open defecation free (ODF) communes.

Since the declaration of the district’s first ODF commune in October 2013, Banteay Meas has made remarkable progress and is on track to become Cambodia’s first fully open defecation free district in 2015.

Representatives of the latest ODF communes, Samraong Kraom and Voat Ang Khang Tboung, joined local and national government representatives, SSH4A programme staff, local dignitaries and more than 500 students from the district to celebrate the event. When SNV’s Sustainable Sanitation & Hygiene for All (SSH4A) programme started in Banteay Meas only 16% of households in the district had access to sanitation. Now, over 80% of households have access to toilets, with over 30,000 people living in communes that have been declared open defecation free.

Voat Ang Khang Tboung Commune Council for Women and Children representative Ms. Som Sothun praised the cooperation between commune and village chiefs, strong support from the Department of Rural Development and the pro-poor approach of SNV in helping the commune reach this milestone. "The commune council have made frequent home visits and ensured that people built their toilets," Ms. Sothun said. "If [households were] elderly or disabled people the commune and village chief have helped them to construct a toilet."

"Reaching full open defecation free [status] in the commune is very important because has changed the behavior of people in the commune - moving from open defecation to using toilets, and people now know that open defecation will cause sickness and lose money [through medical costs and lost productivity]," she said. Banteay Meas district governor Mr. Moung Nourn reiterated local authorities' commitment to reaching full ODF status in 2015, underlining the cooperation with provincial and national authorities needed to support the 10 communes in the district that were yet to reach ODF status.

The celebration was the first event in SNV’s 400 Days Countdown campaign, marking Banteay Meas’ progress towards becoming the nation’s first fully ODF district. "As of today we have 395 days to go!" SNV WASH sector leader Petra Rautavuoma said. "A lot of activities and initiatives will be organised to reach these important milestones and ensure that everyone in Banteay Meas has access to improved sanitation and lives in a healthy open defecation free environment."

"The remarkable results in Banteay Meas have been achieved because of the hard work and good cooperation of all the stakeholders and strong commitment and leadership of the district authorities, commune council and village chiefs. We also want to acknowledge the hard work and important role of the schools, pagodas and health centres in promoting access to improved sanitation and hygiene practices."

"At SNV we have a strong commitment to continue to support all the remaining communes to become ODF and to ensure that Banteay Meas will be the first district in Cambodia to be declared open defecation free in 2015." 

Sustainable Sanitation & Hygiene for All is SNV’s comprehensive approach to ensuring equitable access to improved sanitation and hygiene for those who need it most. To date, SNV’s SSH4A programmes have improved the quality of life of more than 2.2 million rural people across Asia, and the approach is now being implemented with rural communities in 15 countries worldwide.

Following an AusAID-funded pilot phase in five villages in January 2012, the SSH4A programme in Banteay Meas district has now been scaled up district-wide with support from the Stone Family Foundation.