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Water, sanitation top flood meeting agenda

When the United Nation’s Disaster Management Team in Cambodia meets with non-governmental agencies delivering emergency aid to flood victims today, ensuring access to safe water and sanitation to will be at the top of the agenda, UN staff said yesterday.

The meeting follows reports of high rates of pneumonia and diarrhoea among villagers stranded by floods in “safe areas” in Battambang province’s Moung Russei and Sange districts who were reached by “boat doctors” yesterday.

Medical staff who reached one safe area in Ta Phon commune were “overwhelmed with kids with severe diarrhoea”, said John Macgregor, communications director of the Cambodian War Amputees Rehabilitation Society, which is among the NGOs funding emergency relief in the area. “They are re-hydrating as many as possible, to try and prevent deterioration and death,” he said.

The safe areas are elevated land or hilltops that residents of submerged villages have fled to with their livestock. Some have been living at the sites, which have no access to safe water or sanitation facilities, for more than two months.

So Phea, a senior member of the Disadvantaged People’s Organisation, which is also funding the boat doctors, said that at the safe areas, “most children under five years old have diarrhoea and pneumonia”.

Phean Mon, a mother of three at a safe area in Moung Russei district’s Talos commune, said her entire family had fallen ill. She said about 400 families were crowded around a pagoda with their livestock.

They had no access to firewood so that they could boil water, Phean Mon said. “We’re sleeping on damp ground. We’re all squeezed together. If one person gets sick, everyone does,” she said.

The UN’s Disaster Management Team has identified water and sanitation as a priority for immediate aid, noting that the lack of access to safe water and sanitation in rural Cambodia results in about 10,000 deaths a year annually.

“The flooding merely exacerbates an already poor situation,” Belinda Abraham, UNICEF’s chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, said yesterday.

“Even in normal circumstances, access to sanitation is low and water quality is poor, contributing to high incidences of diarrhoeal diseases. These alone account for one-fifth of the deaths of children age five and under in Cambodia, and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually,” she said.

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