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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Drownings taking toll on nation’s youngest

Drownings taking toll on nation’s youngest

Drowning has emerged as a leading cause of death for those aged 17 and under in Cambodia, accounting for half of non-illness-related deaths among young people, a new UNICEF report shows.

Drowning was also responsible for one out of every four deaths from any cause for children ages one to four – the age group comprising the majority of drowning deaths – according to the report, which adds that childhood drowning has been “greatly under-reported” as a cause of death in Asian low and middle-income countries.

The high number of deaths in Cambodia are attributed to a number of factors, mostly tied to economic issues, with similar trends seen in Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam.

“There are often accidents where children can fall into unfenced water jars…and some are not adequately supervised, with parents not able to watch them,” said UNICEF chief of communications Denise Shepherd-Johnson.

Key risk factors noted include a lack of access to piped water leading to homes being located near wells or water bodies, large families in which young children are supervised by siblings rather than adults, and lack of access to pre-school education.

Also, despite a common perception that drowning deaths were linked to natural disasters, most children drowned during sunny weather, with only 5 per cent of deaths occurring during flooding from monsoons.

The majority of drowning deaths took place in rural areas, however, children in urban areas are also at risk, states the report, adding that though a low percentage of Cambodia’s population was urban, it saw a relatively high rate of drowning due to hazards “prevalent throughout urban environments”.

Director of the Ministry of Rural Development’s department of rural health Chea Samnang said the World Health Organization had collaborated with the Ministry of Health to educate families on preventing drowning during seasonal flooding.

More broadly, steps had been taken to include injury-prevention in the school curriculum and provide education at the household and community levels on how to keep children safe, said Shepherd-Johnson.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cassandra Yeap at



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