With festive music and a comedy skit featuring a man who is caught defecating in the woods, a Cambodian village yesterday celebrated the fact each home now has a toilet.
Cambodia's Rural Development Ministry and the UN children's agency, UNICEF, jointly launched a sanitation improvement program in the village in September last year that, until then had only two latrines in two households.
The program offered the 450 villagers encouragement and health education as incentives to start building latrines for their families.
Villagers said the new latrines were a turning point for the rural community and many vowed never again to use the rice fields as toilets -- a practice that is commonplace in a country where only two in 10 people have access to public facilities.
"We would like to express our determination to stop open defecation like before," Chan Nhorn, the Sleng village chief, said in a speech at a ceremony marking the fact that all 94 homes have toilets.
The village is about 60km southwest of Phnom Penh.
Tomoo Hozumi, a UNICEF official who attended the ceremony yesterday, described the villagers' achievement as "very innovative and, certainly, revolutionary."
Cambodia's sanitation infrastructure is among the worst in the world, UNICEF said. Only 16 percent of Cambodia's rural population has access to a clean, private place to go to the toilet, a fact that contributes to the outbreak of dangerous diseases.
Hozumi estimated that "almost 2 million toilets need to be built" throughout the country.
"Unfortunately neither the government nor donor agencies have enough resources to support this," he said.
Chan Nhorn, the Sleng village chief, admitted that it was "quite shameful" for his community to be told by others how to deal with its sanitation problems.
"But we did not quite understand the health consequence of not having a latrine," he said.
Khan Orn, 51, a deputy village chief from Stoeng Treng Province in northeastern Cambodia, was so impressed by the Sleng's success that he came for advice on how to replicate the program.
"It's very simple," said Siv Lun, a 54-year-old woman and resident of Sleng village. "All it takes to have a latrine is for you to be conscious and stop defecating all over the place."