Royal Government of Cambodia, UNICEF and partners join first workshop designed to tackle growing environmental risks to children
- Available in:
Phnom Penh, 5 December 2022 – 18 Ministries from the Royal Government of Cambodia joined with development partners at a technical workshop held last week in Kampong Cham, organised with support from UNICEF. The goal was to share knowledge and initiate action on growing environmental health risks faced by children. These risks include rising air pollution, exposure to toxic waste and materials, and environmental health hazards induced by climate change.
At the workshop, UNICEF presented estimates on environmental risk factors affecting children drawn from the global Toxic Truth research report released by UNICEF and Pure Earth in 2020. This included the finding that more than 50% of Cambodian children may have elevated levels of lead in their blood, a catalyst for further action that led to the workshop. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause irreversible damage to the brains of children, leading to learning problems, poor academic achievements, mental health and behavioral problems, and diminished lifetime earning potential. As well as high levels of lead poisoning, Cambodia has the third highest levels of household air pollution in the Southeast Asian region.
Cambodia has made notable progress in recent decades in reducing child mortality rates. Under-five child mortality rates dropped from 124 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 16 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021, based on preliminary data from the recent Cambodia Demographic Health survey. This progress has been made possible by development and economic growth led by the Royal Government of Cambodia, as well as increased investments to improve access to quality health care. Reducing environmental health risks is now needed to support better child growth and development so they can reach their full potential and reap the development gains of the country.
The Ministry of Health and UNICEF called for this technical workshop because stakeholders needed to better understand and discuss the scale of the environmental health problem. A total of 18 Ministries and several development agencies and NGOs participated in the workshop, with key speakers from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment and UNICEF. UNICEF presented preliminary findings of its desk review on environmental impacts on children in Cambodia, which will inform additional research and policy development in this area. The desk review included findings around air pollution and levels of toxic metals, including concerning levels of lead in some children’s toys.
Dr. Kol Hero is the Director of Preventive Medicine Department at the Ministry of Health. He said “The environment and climate are important issues for the Government as they are having more and more of an impact on our people and our children. This workshop is one important step forward, convening partners to take stock of the situation and identify areas of further research needed to inform policy development in this area.”
Dr. Kol discussed existing policies around the environment and public health, and called on all parties to work together to increase knowledge on environmental health risks to guide future action. Several partners spoke about the risks of hazardous chemicals and toxic metals. UNICEF presented on the importance of healthy environments for children, and advocated for shifting towards more climate resilient health, education, and water, hygiene and sanitation systems.
“The right to health and development is one of children’s most fundamental rights,” said Dr. Anirban Chatterjee, UNICEF Cambodia’s Acting Representative.
“Today we came together to share our knowledge on the increasing climate and environmental health threats facing children, and commit to working together to collectively address these challenges. UNICEF will continue to work towards ensuring that children are at the heart of decision-making around environmental health.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.