Cambodia Water Crisis: Facts, Progress, and How to Help

Nearly 3.4 million people in Cambodia do not have basic access to safe drinking water; that’s 2 out of every 10 people. And although it rains for nearly half the year, the water crisis still has a stronghold in the Southeast Asian country.

But it isn’t just about water. Today, 6.5 million don’t have basic access to their own toilet, or at least basic sanitation. This impacts the following:

  • It makes it challenging and sometimes impossible to have a safe and dignifying place to go.
  • When families defecate in the open, it often contaminates surrounding surface water sources.

However, the water crisis doesn’t define Cambodia. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and the poverty rate continues to drop year after year. The government, local organizations, and communities themselves are making positive change.

Below are the top facts you should know about the Cambodia water crisis today and how you can help bring it to an end.

Cambodia Water Crisis 2020 Facts

1. 21 Percent of Cambodia Lacks Basic Access to Water

The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), a global database of water, sanitation, and hygiene data, reports that 21 percent of the population in Cambodia cannot get safe drinking water in under a 30-minute roundtrip. According to 2017 data, 11 percent of the population is still relying on surface water like ponds, springs, and rivers.

In total, 3.4 million people are still in need of basic access to safe water in Cambodia.

2020 Progress Update

The country is experiencing a water crisis, and everyone from the local government to charities, individuals, and communities themselves have sought to solve it. As a result, Cambodia’s made progress. In 2005, 40 percent of Cambodians were without basic access. In 2017, the most up to date status, that number fell to 21.

Cambodia water crisis
Children drink safe water in Cambodia

2. 31 percent of Cambodia Defecates Outside

While 11 percent of people are drinking from surface water sources like ponds and swamps, another 10 are drinking from unimproved sources, such as open wells or unprotected springs. Each of these sources are open to contamination, especially when nearly a third of the country is defecating outside.

Without toilets of their own, families have no other choice but to use the bushes, the nearby forests, or to go out in the open when the sun sets each day. The heavy Cambodian rains carry human feces across communities and into surface water sources, creating a dangerous environment for everyone.

2020 Progress Update

In 2005, 69 percent of people in Cambodia were practicing open defecation. Only 23 percent of people had basic access to a bathroom. The country was likely much sicker.

Cambodia water crisis
A latrine in Cambodia

As of 2017, that number has drastically improved. Over half of the population, 59 percent, have what JMP deems “basic” access to a toilet. This means the facility isn’t shared with any other household, and that it’s designed to separate people from poop (a slab, a ventilation system, a pour flush toilet, etc.)

3. 33 Percent of Cambodia Cannot Wash their Hands

JMP regards “basic” hygiene access as the “availability of a handwashing facility on premises with soap and water.” In Cambodia, 21 percent of people have no hand washing facility at all, and another 13 percent have a device for hand washing but no reliable source of water or soap.

This is a huge challenge for public health in the country. Without regular hand washing with soap, disease spreads rapidly from one household to another.

2020 Progress Update

Since 2008, when the JMP started collecting hygiene data, access to basic hygiene has not improved in any substantial way. There is still much work to be done to improve hygiene and reduce illness in communities across the country.

Help End the Cambodia Water and Sanitation Crisis

Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village model for addressing the water crisis is at work in Cambodia. Through the gifts of generous donors, Lifewater staff come to know the families in villages in need in Cambodia and across the globe.

Cambodia water crisis
Lifewater staff visiting a community member

Lifewater staff work with communities to adopt critical health practices like handwashing and using a latrine. Our engineers design a custom water solution for every community, and families receive safe water.

In Cambodia, recent advancements promise health and hope. Under-5 mortality is often a measure of the country’s overall health. In 2017, the under-5 mortality rate in Cambodia is 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2005, the number was 65 deaths per 1,000 live births. Although still a high number, this is a sign of progress and a sign that more can be done.

It’s exactly what Lifewater’s model has proven to help resolve in remote, hard-to-reach villages.

Join us in partnering with communities across Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Change is possible, and you can help end the crisis in your lifetime.


Lifewater International is a Christian non-profit clean water and community health organization committed to helping children and families living in extreme poverty thrive. Learn more about Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village program and the unique contributions local churches, governments, leaders, and families make to build a healthier and more productive future for their children at


Choose a Village. Change a Life.