At nearly half of the Kingdom’s primary schools, students have to make a daily choice between drinking contaminated water or going thirsty, a dilemma the government hopes to soon banish with new minimum sanitation and safe water standards.
The guidelines, which have yet to be finalised but are intended for the upcoming school year, according to an Education Ministry official, include increasing infrastructure so that every primary school has one latrine per 50 students, half a litre of drinking water for each child and 2-3 litres of hand-washing water available per person.
Currently, more than 41 per cent of the nation’s primary schools lack access to clean water and nearly 20 per cent have no toilet, according to the ministry.
But with the 2015 Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of people who lack safe drinking water looming, the government is feeling the pressure to quickly implement mitigating measures.
Diarrhoea remains a leading cause of child mortality in Cambodia, responsible for the death of more than 2,000 children under 5 each year. By the time children enter school, more than half suffer from untreated intestinal worms, according to German development agency GIZ, which along with the ministry and UNICEF is helping set the new standards.
“With improved access to water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities, children will get sick less often and will have to miss fewer days of class, which will result in an overall positive contribution to their academic performance,” said Ayphalla Te, project manager for GIZ’s Fit for School Programme.
Independent research conducted last year found that primary school students are 2.5 times more likely to regularly attend class at schools supplied with filtered water.
“More than two million students are enrolled in primary school – we’re going to start there since it’s the biggest target but year by year will expand standards to include other levels,” said Dr Yung Kunthearith, deputy director of the ministry’s school health department.
He added that the government is committed to providing all schools with latrines and access to clean drinking water by 2025.