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ECHO and UNICEF: Boosting child survival in Cambodia

© UNICEF Cambodia/2005/Nettleton
Children in Kampong Speu near the new water pump.

By Steve Nettleton

KAMPONG SPEU, Cambodia, 18 May 2005 – For Sok Em and her neighbours, finding clean water has never been a simple task. 

Until a few months ago, she could only draw from a murky pond outside her village. Its water took a toll on her four children who would often get sick with diarrhoea. And as a result, all the family’s spare money was used up to take care of health problems.

But earlier this year, engineers installed a well and pump in the village, and Sok Em and the other local residents say their health has improved significantly. 

This project is the product of a partnership between UNICEF and ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office. The two organizations are working with the government and local communities to boost child survival rates in Cambodia, which suffers from the highest child mortality rate in Southeast Asia.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2005/Nettleton
A girl takes a quick dip in fresh water.

Access to water and sanitation is key

According to UNICEF’s ‘State of the World’s Children’ Report for 2005, only 34 per cent of Cambodia’s population uses improved drinking water sources. Some 14 per cent of Cambodia’s children die before reaching the age of five; around 9.7 per cent die before age one. Many of these deaths could easily have been prevented. A key part of preventing child deaths and improving survival is providing access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

UNICEF and ECHO are supporting the drilling of more than 400 new wells in villages and schools this year, which will supply clean water to at least 8,000 families.  Community hygiene classes teach villagers how to safely use this water for everything from washing to cooking.

In addition, UNICEF believes that investing in latrines and hygiene promotion in school is critical for changing behaviours at an early age and creating the demand for sanitation in the next generation of parents. Construction is currently under way to set up latrines in 40 schools by the end of the year.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2005/Nettleton
A young boy washes himself in clean water.

Kick-starting community health care

Dr. Jose M. Echevarria, the Head of ECHO’s Cambodia Office, says that providing water “is the first step in an emergency situation because it is the first need. But the second step is to provide good sanitation and to educate people on sanitation measures.”

In addition to providing improved water and sanitation, UNICEF and ECHO are also helping kick-start community health care through immunization programmes and improved nutrition. 

The partnership aims to protect some 33,000 infants and children under the age of one from seven vaccine preventable diseases (namely tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles and Hepatitis B) and 136,600 children aged six to 59 months from vitamin A deficiency. 

Government health staff pay monthly visits to small villages, immunizing young children, providing prenatal checkups to expecting mothers, and educating families about the use of iodized salt.  Children are also given vitamin A supplements to boost their immune systems and deworming tablets to get rid of intestinal worms.

By bringing health care and safe water directly to the communities in need, ECHO and UNICEF are supporting critical activities to help ensure the survival and development of young Cambodians.




April 2005:
UNICEF Correspondent Steve Nettleton reports from Cambodia on efforts by ECHO and UNICEF to reduce child deaths

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