The Politics of Sanitation Development and Civil Society in Cambodia and India

The Politics of Sanitation Development and Civil Society in Cambodia and India

Paul Jason Howard (Griffith University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1807-6.ch001

Abstract

India and Cambodia have had among the lowest levels of sanitation development in the world and both have great disparities in terms of sanitation access, particularly in rural-urban terms. India's topographic diversity and sheer physical size sees great disparity in sanitation access among its Provinces. Cambodia also has great Provincial-level sanitation disparity. Despite these similarities between Cambodia and India's sanitation development, India has developed what is akin to a form of government-driven ‘sanitation nationalism', something that has not yet happened in Cambodia. India's nascent national obsession with sanitation and hygiene has been driven by both the government and NGO sectors. The BJP, under Narendra Modi, swept to power in 2014 with sanitation being a major issue in the campaign. In Cambodia, whilst there was a strong contest in the 2013 national elections, the opposition CNRP was later dissolved. Consequently, electoral contestation is not a driver for sanitation development being a major election issue in Cambodia as it was in India.
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Introduction

As part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 6.2 is to ‘by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’ (UNDP, 2019). The specific focus of this paper is a comparative analysis of India and Cambodia’s development of sanitation access for their citizens and the parallels that can be drawn between the two countries. Both have had among the lowest levels of sanitation development in the world and both have great disparities in terms of sanitation access, particularly in rural-urban terms. India’s topographic diversity and sheer physical size sees great disparity in sanitation access between its Provinces. Cambodia though also has great Provincial level sanitation disparity. Despite these parallels and similarities that may be observed between Cambodia and India’s sanitation development, India has begun to develop what is akin to a form of government driven ‘sanitation nationalism’, something that has not yet developed in Cambodia. Despite this distinction though, UNICEF/WHO data shows Cambodia having made significant progress with exponential growth in sanitation access. In comparison, India’s progress has been more linear and lags Cambodia’s levels of sanitation access, the opposite situation to that which existed twenty years ago.

India’s nascent national obsession with sanitation and hygiene has been driven by both the government and NGO sectors. The BJP, under Narendra Modi, swept to power in 2014 after an electioneering process that saw engagement with the youth of the country assure a landslide victory. Modi had tapped into the youth vote though social media by connecting with younger Indians on issues that they felt strongly about. One issue that received a degree of prominence in the campaign was that of the urgent need to tackle India’s poor sanitation coverage. Ironically, Cambodia’s 2013 national elections had also seen the main party opposition, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) win a great percentage of the youth vote with social media utilised more effectively by the CNRP than by the incumbent CPP under Hun Sen.

In contrast to the Indian election, sanitation was not a major election issue in the general elections in Cambodia in 2013. One fundamental difference in the two cases was that of genuine electoral contestation. Quite simply, in the case of India, the BJP, which ultimately won the contest, could drive the agenda particularly amongst the young who saw a real opportunity for national socio-political change. In contrast, while Cambodia’s 2013 elections saw the opposition CNRP seriously contending the CPP’s power base with the youth vote and social media used to court it, the CNRP failed to win power from the CPP. In the aftermath, CNRP officials and activists claimed that there had been electoral rigging. Finally, in 2017, the CNRP was ordered to be dissolved via a Supreme Court order, something that shuttered any immediate electoral threat to the ruling CPP (Sokhean, Dara, & Baliga, 2017). Regardless of the lack of genuine electoral contestation though, the time is right for Cambodia to adopt a national political response to the country’s poor sanitation performance via genuine electoral contestation. International and local NGOs in India are active in the new national sanitation fervour. Whilst NGOs may take actions to tackle low levels of sanitation development, these are constrained by resources and the relative competency and enthusiasm of the political response. The national government must direct the national efforts and ensure that there is integration between all actors.

Both India and Cambodia still have comparatively low levels of sanitation access, both in global terms and within their respective regions. Over the last two decades, both countries have seen increases in their levels of access to improved sanitation. Cambodia’s progress has gathered pace in recent years, something that is largely the result of focus by international bodies and NGOs at all levels. The removal of any meaningful opposition in Cambodia in 2017 though removed the potential for electoral contestation to give further impetus to political focus on the issues. India on the other hand has seen an explicit political push to address sanitation, largely as a result of the 2014 general elections that saw the BJP under Modi build the sanitation mantra as part of its ultimately successful campaign to take government.

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