Nearly half the population of Cambodia does not have access to safe water and basic sanitation, a U.N. agency said Friday ahead of World Water Day, calling on the authorities to give greater attention to improving rural water supply in the impoverished country.
Some 6.3 million out of 14.9 million Cambodians are unable to access clean drinking water, most of them poor and living in rural areas, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement marking the Saturday event.
Improving the quality of rural water would help accelerate Cambodia’s social and economic development, it said, urging authorities to make greater commitments and investments to tackling the issue.
“Attention to rural water supply, sanitation, and hygiene will unquestionably deliver results—less child deaths, better learning at school, less disease, more productive workers, less health costs for the people and the system,” UNICEF’s Cambodia representatives Rana Flowers said.
“These services are central to Cambodia’s future as a middle-income country,” she said.
40 percent in rural areas
UNICEF Cambodia’s spokesman Meas Bunly told RFA’s Khmer Service that some 40 percent of Cambodians in rural areas have access to clean water, compared to 80 percent in the capital Phnom Penh.
The main reason millions of Cambodians lack access to clean water is that the government has made other development areas a higher priority, he said.
“The government has many priorities in terms of development such as infrastructure and other areas, so sometime it hasn’t been focused on clean water and sanitation,” he said.
Local authorities in rural areas often place more importance on building new roads and schools than they do on improving water supply in their areas, he said.
Boosting water supply “is a vital factor which allows people to be healthy and contribute to the development of the country,” he said.
The lack of access to clean water leaves Cambodian children vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea, which is the second leading cause of death among children under five, according to UNICEF.
The problem is costing money and lives in Cambodia, and in order to improve health outcomes, authorities should also pay attention to improving sanitation in both households and public institutions, the agency said.
Some 40 percent of primary schools and 35 percent of health centers in the country do not have access to safe water and sanitation, it said.
World Water Day has been observed by U.N. member countries since 1992 to draw awareness to sustainable use of water, health, and sanitation, and other issues related to water resources.
This year’s theme is water and energy.
Reported by Ouk Savbory and Samean Yun. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.