A recent study conducted by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) and partner organisations has emphasised the need for considering nutrition in water supply services and sanitation.

The study, funded by Plan International Cambodia (PIC) and conducted over eight months, focused on minority groups, impoverished families and the illiterate, particularly in Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces.

According to the study report seen by The Post, malnutrition is influenced by various factors including food insecurity, limited access to clean water, and inadequate household sanitation and hygiene. Specifically, open defecation has been identified as a cause of stunting and wasting in children. Addressing open defecation, improving water supply and sanitation, and prioritising nutrition can contribute to reducing all forms of malnutrition and minimising stunting in children.

Notably, positive progress has been observed in Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Siem Reap provinces thanks to the organisation’s four-year intervention project under the “healthy start in life” framework. Rates of stunting and wasting in children under 5 have decreased, while water supply coverage and basic sanitation have improved. Furthermore, certain villages, communes and districts have achieved open defecation free (ODF) status.

“The increase in water supply and sanitation in these communities has demonstrated a positive correlation with improved nutrition and children’s health, leading to a reduction in stunting and wasting rates among children under 5,” stated the report.

In 2022, Cambodia successfully reduced the rates of stunting in children under 5 by 22 per cent. The country also witnessed an increase in water supply coverage and basic sanitation from 75 per cent in 2019 to 78 per cent.

According to the report, there are persistently high rates of stunting and gap in access to water supply and basic sanitation, especially in rural areas. These problems worsen existing gender and socio-economic inequalities. Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces are particularly affected by these issues.

Chea Samnang, head of the water, sanitation, and hygiene technical sub-group (WASH), emphasised the need for comprehensive interventions to improve child and maternal health by reducing stunting and wasting rates in communities. This would require integrating nutrition, water supply, and basic sanitation.

“Currently, we lack clear guidelines or standards that effectively integrate water supply, sanitation and nutrition. Projects often focus on either water supply services and sanitation or nutrition alone. It is crucial to align interventions that address all three aspects,” Samnang added.

Yi Kim Than, deputy country director for programmes at PIC, explained that the case study aimed to understand and share experiences, evaluate coordination mechanisms, and assess positive changes in nutrition, water supply and basic sanitation within communities. The study involved reviewing documents, conducting interviews and group discussions at the national level, as well as practical surveys in Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces, along with consultations with relevant stakeholders.

“We have confidence that this case study report, focusing on the integration of water supply, sanitation and nutrition to improve the health and development of children in Cambodia, will be a valuable resource for policymakers, strategists and programme implementers in the fields of nutrition, water supply and rural sanitation,” he added.