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