Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia makes 2004 year of clean water

Cambodia makes 2004 year of clean water

Cambodia makes 2004 year of clean water

There are a lot of high hopes for 2004. It is the Chinese year of the Monkey, the

International Year To Commemorate The Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition

and, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan simply designated it, a "year of kept

promises".

But Cambodia's Minister of Rural Development Ly Thuch has something more specific

in mind.

He has labeled 2004 "Water Year".

UNICEF figures show that 70 percent of Cambodians drink unsafe water. In rural areas,

where 85 percent of the population lives, only 24 percent have access to safe water

and 91 percent live in unsanitary conditions.

The Ministry of Rural Development aims to provide clean water to 45 percent of the

population by 2012. This is in line with Cambodia's UN Millennium Development Goals

(MDGs) which intend to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking

water by 2015.

Thuch has asked for $60 million from donors to fund the project. "Since the

government is not able to fund such a huge project, I hope donors will understand...

we need clean water," he said.

Thuch said that while much donor attention was directed at fighting HIV/AIDS, the

main killer of young children in Cambodia was unsafe water, which contributes to

diarrhoeal disease, acute respiratory infections, malaria and dengue fever. UNICEF

reports that 138 children out of every 1000 die before they are five years old, a

mortality rate that has increased 20 percent since 1990. "Compared to Bangladesh,

our mortality rate is very high," Thuch said.

World Bank operations officer Steven Schonberger agreed improving access to clean

water was a global priority, but could not comment on whether the $60 million funding

would be readily available. The World Bank is currently preparing a country strategy

to identify funding priorities in Cambodia.

"We have to see where our money has the greatest impact," he said. "We're

just in that process now."

But funding to clean up Cambodia's water continues to trickle in from other sources.

Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) program director Hum Suphon said he expected to receive

up to $100,000 funding for a clean-water project next year. Suphon said the money

would be used to build a factory in Prey Veng to make water filters.

The CRC is already selling water purifiers in markets at reduced prices, but a local

factory would further reduce costs.

The UNDP 2003 Human Development Report states Cambodia has little chance of meeting

the clean water MDGs by 2015. Even the MDG report stated that financial resources

could be a major constraint to reaching the target.

But Thuch said he hoped that designating 2004 "Water Year" would focus

the attention of donors, government and NGOs on the plight of rural communities.

"We want to be able to save lives," Thuch said. "It's about life or

death."

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