Fifty per cent of rural Cambod-ians lack access to safe drinking water, and more than eight million people in rural areas — or 66 per cent — have no access to adequate sanitation, UNICEF says. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a serious problem for a majority of rural Cambodians, but the consequences are particularly serious for children, the United Nations Children’s Fund says.
Urging the government to organise further across sect-ors to combat these threats to children’s health, UNICEF representatives said in a statement for World Water Day today that widespread infection, encouraged by unsanitary conditions, meant many children failed to absorb critical nutrients.
“Infection makes children lose their appetite and steals nutrients from their bodies — nutrients that are also lost through diarrhoea,” UNICEF’s Rana Flowers said.
“Twenty-eight per cent of Cambodian children are underweight, and four out of 10 are stunted.”
UNICEF says 22 per cent of Cambodia’s schools lack toilets and in schools with them, 30 per cent do not work.
“In these circumstances, children are constantly exposed to infection,” it says.
A study commissioned last year had found that child-ren from poor households with functioning toilets were less likely to be underweight than children from otherwise comparable households that did not have proper toilets, Denise Shepherd-Johnson, UNICEF's chief of communications in Cambodia, said.
“A sick child cannot absorb nutrients efficiently,” Flowers said. “Malnutrition leads to poorer cognitive development and schooling outcomes, and children are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out . . . They are less able to work, less productive, and earn less as adults.”
Due to such taxes on productivity and health, Cambodia loses $146 million in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies every year, according to UNICEF’s calculations.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said yesterday his ministry was focusing on providing a measles vaccine, but also provided “vitamin A, iodine or iodised salt, iron, fluoride and a vaccine program to help children cease losing nutrit-ion and being stunted in their growth because of diarrhoea, as well as measles and breathing illnesses”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA