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“With our behaviour, we are killing our children,” warns sanitation expert J.P. Shukla addressing health activists. He’s leading the call in Cambodia to prevent deaths caused by the diseases associated with open defecation. It’s important to share this message now, before the kingdom’s ‘season of flies’ starts in March as flies are one of the major carriers of disease.
“Avoidable diseases among poor people, and health spending necessitated by open air defecation needs to stop” - adds the colleague of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach innovator Dr. Kamal Kar, “not partially, but totally.”
Rain washes open excrement into household water sources, and flies, poultry and pigs circulate the waste indiscriminately causing illnesses such as diarrhea which is a one of the main causes of death in children under five in Cambodia.
This program, financed by the Global Sanitation Fund, is designed to initiate good community sanitation practices, through Plan Cambodia. Guidance is given by J.P. Shukla who has 30 years of experienced in the sector.
Attendees of the sensitization session at southeastern Svay Rieng are thirsty and drink freely from water bottles containing pure drinking water.
They’re then offered water contaminated by a hair extracted from excrement, which they refuse to drink despite being parched by the mid day heat of the sun.
“Contamination of this hair multiplied by six is only equal to that of a six-leg fly on your food,” sanitation activist, Ki Bory, tells the shocked parents attending the session.
Bory, a health worker associated with the program, spent roughly three hours to assist some 40 parents in Ang Svay village to calculate their annual excrement in the open air and its deadly impacts.Affected by the call of their children who had also been sensitized to request their family to ‘please-build- me-a-latrine’, parents promised to construct a latrine right away.
The manager of Plan Cambodia’s Global Sanitation Fund program Oun Syvibola signals the importance of competent frontline sanitation activists: “Community ownership and sustainable community sanitation is in their hands.”
“We want to be sure that our activists can convince the community to take action, not to depend on aid,” he continues.
Hand in hand with line offices of the Ministry of Rural Development, Plan Cambodia as the executor of the Global Sanitation Fund aims to contribute to reduce Cambodia’s open defecation rate by 70 percent.
The rate remains the highest in the region and more is to be done – the reason for early 2013 hands-on refresher training given to more than 60 sanitation activists from a fifth provinces across the kingdom, according to Plan Cambodia’s Global Sanitation Fund project coordinator Hang Hybunna.
Poverty is not the issue: “More people own a mobile phone than own a latrine. It’s not the issue of poverty, but whether or not they are convinced to stop defecating in the open areas, which simply means to stop eating each other’s faeces and stop killing our children,” adds Shukla, now 60 years old.