Taking care of Cambodia's bamboo shoots

3 min read
A mother feeds safe drinking water to her child
Image: WaterAid Cambodia/ Remissa Mak

In Cambodia, interest in integrating nutrition with water, sanitation and hygiene is booming. So what are the opportunities for doing more, and tipping the scales on malnutrition rates? Channa Samol, Dan Jones and James Wicken introduce their recent research.

'Taking care of our bamboo shoots' is a phrase used by older Cambodians to refer to their children or the youngest generation of the population. We smiled each time we heard this phrase endearingly spoken on many occasions over the past few months, from the Deputy Prime Minister telling stories to school children on National Nutrition Day in November to Provincial Governors presenting to their peers at the Second National Conference on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and nutrition integration in December.

2016: framing WASH and nutrition as a driver of human capital works

The bamboo shoots metaphor is particularly pertinent in Cambodia these days, because the Royal Government of Cambodia is focusing its national development plan on human resource development, and key development partners are highlighting the importance of human capital. Framing the dialogue on WASH and nutrition integration as a pathway to increase human capital is one of reasons why high-level support for WASH and nutrition integration has continued to grow in Cambodia over the past few years.

This was one of the findings from a research study we completed in the lead up to the Second National Conference on WASH and nutrition integration. Back in 2016, WaterAid Cambodia, Burnet Institute, Plan International Cambodia and the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) undertook a detailed study looking at the barriers and opportunities for integrating these two sectors.

2018: leadership and networks create a vibrant community of practice

Two years later, we wanted to understand how this agenda was progressing and what were the barriers to and opportunities for doing more. We found that progress was being driven by the CARD, which has the convening power to bring multiple ministries together to tackle a single issue, and it was very clear to us that this effort is being driven by one particular champion in CARD who has the technical skills, political connections and vision to drive this agenda forwards.

This leadership, coupled with the consolidation of the Scaling Up Nutrition networks among civil society and development partners, has resulted in a vibrant community of practice among government, civil society and private sector partners working together. In the lead-up to the Second National Conference, there were times when all the partners – national to sub-national – could barely fit in the meeting room; a big difference from the small meetings we used to have on this topic just a few years ago.

Dr Chea Samnang and high level representatives at the Second WASH and Nutrition Conference exhibition.
Dr Chea Samnang and high level representatives at the Second WASH and Nutrition Conference exhibition in Cambodia.
Image: WaterAidCambodia/Channa Samol

Now we need to build up in-country expertise

Our study also highlights some of the major challenges we still face to translate this new momentum and new policies into action, especially at the sub-national level. WASH and nutrition integration is a fairly niche area, and, as a professional group globally, there have been a lot of new insights and evidence generated in the past few years.

Technical staff in the Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Health have not yet had opportunities to master this new field, which makes it difficult for them to drive the agenda forward. We need to do better at building up the knowledge of a pool of technical experts in country.

The insights and recommendations from the study were taken directly into the Second National Conference on WASH and Nutrition Integration and presented to more than 200 participants as a call to action. This call to action will now form the basis of a work plan for the Royal Government of Cambodia’s sub-working group on WASH and nutrition integration throughout 2019 and beyond. In Cambodia we will continue to work closely with this group, and hope WaterAid’s contribution can help more bamboo shoots to grow strong and tall.