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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Children suffer as schools dry up

Children suffer as schools dry up

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children.jpg

Sothearos Primary School headteacher Bun Sary with pupils at the well the school was forced to dig after its mains water supply was cut off.

A THIRD of Phnom Penh's schools are being forced to survive without mains water.

Forty-six of the city's 150 primary and secondary schools have been disconnected

after running up a collective debt to the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA)

of more than 300 million riel (US$75,000).

Some schools have been without a water supply since 1995 and have become so desperate

for water they have dug their own wells, which are useless in the dry season.

Children as young as six are forced to attend lessons at the peak of the hot season

without drinking water or toilets.

Bun Sary, head of Sothearos Primary, said his school owes the PPWSA 15.3 million

riel and has been cut off since it was landed with the massive bill nine years ago.

He collects 200 riel a month from each of the school's 2,400 pupils to pay for a

contractor to supply water. If the school was connected to the mains the cost would

be far lower.

"I have been trying to resolve this matter for the five years I have been head

of Sothearos," he said.

"Only this week I wrote a report to the Education Ministry asking them to negotiate

with the PPWSA to cancel the debt.

"We have no drinking water here so students must bring their own. The charge

of 200 riel a month is high for our students because many come from very poor families,

but I do not take money off the poorest. It does make life harder for the children."

The debts schools owe cover the 13 years from 1982 to 1995.

Sary explained that no exact records of water use had been kept; the school was simply

presented with a bill based on how many pupils it had and how much water the average

pupil uses per day.

Rong Chun is president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association with more

than 3,300 members.

He said: "Many schools in Cambodia have no toilets or water. If the school environment

is not good the students cannot study. It is a very bad formula that creates a bad

learning atmosphere. It is also bad for their health."

Sok Sina, a teacher at Chau Pinya Hok Primary School near Boeng Keng Kang market,

says his school is another without water. "Some of our students live far away

from the school so they have problems because of the heat. They all have to bring

their own drinking water from home."

The situation is cloudy after the PPWSA issued a statement saying the Ministry of

Education had agreed to clear the debts of 42 schools, but only up to the end of

1999. Schools are expected to pay their own debts from 2000.

The water authority's commercial director, Sim Kheng Lin, said the Municipality Education

Office (MEO) released a letter on February 9, 2000 agreeing to pay the debts of these

schools.

He claims that since the letter was written 27 schools have kept up to date with

their payments, but 15 schools have been disconnected.

According to Lin, 12 of these 15 schools, including Sothearos Primary School, have

had their debts cleared by the MEO, with just three schools still owing the water

board money.

But on hearing of the PPWSA's statement Sothearos head Sary said no one had told

him the debt had been paid and his school was still disconnected from the mains water

supply.

He said: "In 1999 I wrote to the water authorities asking for us to be reconnected

but it did not happen.

"I am glad to hear the MEO has paid our debt, but no official has told me this

so I will have to make my own enquiries. If the debt has been paid off then why haven't

we been reconnected?"

Lin has urged all schools that need to be connected to the water supply to contact

the PPWSA's house connection office.

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