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Friday, May 04, 2007

Lack of adequate sanitation triggers child health concerns in Cambodia

By Guy Degan

On 7 May, UNICEF hosts the first preparatory meeting for the International Year of Sanitation in 2008, declared by the UN General Assembly to address global sanitation crisis. Here is a report on the situation in Cambodia.

In rural Cambodia, less than 16 per cent
of population have access to improved sanitation.

SVAY RIENG PROVINCE, Cambodia, 4 May 2007 – Rice farmer Vorn Mao is looking forward to the rainy season to flood his family's dry and dusty rice paddies. But for him and his wife Roeung, water not only provides a livelihood. It also has been the cause of some anguish.

Together they look after seven grandchildren while the parents work in the capital, Phnom Penh. During a water shortage a little over a year ago, their five-year-old granddaughter Chenda died from drinking unsafe water.

The grandparents recall how Chenda had a high fever and diarrhoea, and died overnight at the district hospital. Her mother returned from Phnom Penh too late and did see the girl before she died.

Low coverage in rural areas

UNICEF estimates that only 16 per cent of rural Cambodians have access to adequate sanitation and 65 per cent to safe water. In urban areas the situation is much better, but some 80 per cent of Cambodians still live in the countryside.

“Water and sanitation has been identified as one of the major causes of the high diarrhoea incidence in Cambodia,” says UNICEF Cambodia Project Officer Hilda Winarta. “In particular, the sanitation situation is very poor. Cambodia has in fact been classified as one of the countries in the world with the lowest sanitation coverage in the rural areas.”

Many rural households lack basic sanitation facilities, and awareness of good hygiene practices is limited. There is often no toilet nor any soap for washing hands at home or in school. Children are more likely than adults to touch unclean surfaces and are therefore particularly vulnerable to unhealthy environments.

Improved services and hygiene

Working with local communities to improve access to safe water and sanitation is one of the cornerstones of UNICEF Cambodia's child rights programme – known as ‘Seth Koma’ in the Khmer language. Providing local commune councils with technical assistance and expertise in water and sanitation is a major part of the project.

UNICEF’s aim is twofold: to encourage communities to allocate funding towards water and sanitation services, and to improve their hygiene practices.

At Phoum Thom village a recently built well is now providing 10 families with water for drinking, cooking and washing. An information board beside the well clearly explains what good hygiene is.

“Before, there was no clean water in the commune,” says Khorn Sa Ung, a local council member. “People fetched water from different chidren in Cambodia sources – sometimes from the river, sometimes from the ponds in nearby pagodas – and this water is not clean.”

Water and sanitation access

At the nearby Thlork Primary School, water from a UNICEF-funded well not only provides safe water for drinking but also keeps the school's latrines clean and hygienic. Research indicates that schools with wells and latrines help to keep more children in primary schools, particularly girls.

As a young child, student Rina Phan, now 12, suffered from diarrhoea and typhoid as a result of drinking unsafe water at home. “I think it's important to have clean water, good personal hygiene and good health,” she says.

In the past year, UNICEF has implemented its Seth Koma project in six rural provinces. By improving water and sanitation access and hygiene, the project is helping Cambodians avert the preventable deaths of thousands of young children from diarrhoea and water-borne diseases.
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Violent land eviction in Cambodia's tranquil beachside municipality

As the construction excavator made its way towards the residents of Commune 4, police brandishing riot shields and guns marched behind it in its wake. The residents stood behind their make-shift barricades of barbed wire and household materials, steadfast in the path of the massive excavator and its entourage. This was the scene at Commune 4, Mittapheap District in Sihanoukville – a municipality best-known as a beach holiday destination – early in the morning of April 20, 2007.

Some 150 military police and police officers armed with guns, electric batons and tear gas were there to conduct an eviction raid on the disputed land which is home to over 110 families. No warning or official notice of the eviction had been given and a violent confrontation between police and villagers ensued.

Two policemen and one military policeman were injured, as well as a number of villagers including a 77-year-old man who received an electric shock to his forehead and currently remains in hospital. Eighty houses were burnt down and a remaining 26 were demolished. Thirteen villagers, aged from 16 to 56, were also arrested during the raid. One of those arrested, the 16-year-old youth who was also injured during the eviction, was released on bail on May 2 after LICADO lawyer submitted bail motion to the court. But the other 12, some with weak health conditions, remain detained at Sihanoukville prison.

Civil society groups have challenged the legality of the eviction, which was reportedly based on a search warrant for guns – not an eviction notice – issued by the Sihanoukville Municipal Court. The authorities later on stated that they did not find any guns in the community. This eviction also took place despite the fact that the ownership of the land is disputed, and at least some of the families have a good claim to the land under Cambodia's Land Law.

The cadastral office claims the land is owned by a woman named Peng Ravy, reportedly the wife of an adviser to a high-ranking CPP official, who allegedly bought it from three previous owners who had purchased the land before 1993. Local authorities were consistently unable to provide any details of original ownership by these three individuals, saying that the documents had been lost.

However, at least 17 of the evicted families had lived on and occupied the land since 1995, giving them claims to ownership of the land under the law. Prior to the eviction, the local authorities offered compensation to these 17 families to leave the land – a clear recognition that the families did have valid claims to the land. The authorities offer of compensation – plots of land in another area or alternatively US$500 cash – was rejected by the families because they considered the land to be too far away and the amount inadequate. The authorities refused to conduct a survey all the families in the community, in order to determine who else may have valid claims to ownership.

History of the dispute

Despite the disputed ownership being unresolved, Sihanoukville authorities proceeded with attempts to forcibly evict the families living on the land. On September 25, 2006, more than 80 police and other forces came with five bulldozers and materials ready to demolish houses in Commune 4. The residents resisted by throwing stones at them, causing the police to shoot into the air in an attempt to scare and disperse the residents. One resident was shot in the leg during the incident. The forces retreated from the scene only after they saw a group of journalists arrive there.

Following this failed eviction attempt, the Sihanoukville Municipality issued an announcement on October 27, 2006 ordering the residents to remove their houses from the land within 15 days. The residents refused to comply and continued to live on the land. On January 19, 2007, the Sihanoukville Municipality re-issued the announcement ordering the villagers to remove their houses within seven days, which they again refused to do.

On February 5, 2007, a Cambodian's People Party member of the senate Men Monly visited the community on a fact finding mission in order to make a report for the senate. He met with the Sihanoukville Municipality and the villagers, who submitted to him a plan for a possible resolution. Mem Monly apparently forwarded the plan to the senate however no resolution was made.

LICADHO calls for the immediate release of all the 13 villagers arrested during the raid, who have been charged with intentional destruction of property and physical assault against the authorities. Furthermore, LICADHO condemns the authorities' lack of transparency over ownership of the land and their willingness to conduct a violent eviction, rather than using peaceful negotiation to try to resolve the dispute.
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Cambodia holds meeting to promote employment

Cambodian Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MoLVT) opened a two-day meeting here on Thursday to promote employment in the country.

Ways to promote employment will be the subject of the meeting, which is attended by representatives of the Cambodian government, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations including the United Nations Development Program ( UNDP), an ILO statement said.

Participants will discuss policies and strategies to create jobs for new entrants to the labor force and raise earnings of men and women working in rural areas and the informal sector, it said.

The meeting agenda covers skills for livelihoods and employability, enterprise development for job creation and increased productivity, improving linkages between domestic markets and the global economy, maximizing the benefits from the oil and gas industries for decent work, and labor migration management and policies, it added.

Despite rapid recent economic growth that has created work in manufacturing and tourism sectors in Cambodia, good jobs are not readily available, the statement said, adding that challenges facing the country include youth unemployment in urban areas and low productivity with inadequate earnings in the agricultural sector.

The meeting is organized by the MoLVT of Cambodia with support from the ILO, the statement said.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia, 3 other nations join global efforts to combat nuke terrorism

The Associated Press
Thursday May 3rd, 2007

WASHINGTON, May 3 (Kyodo), Cambodia has joined the U.S.-Russia-led Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism along with Armenia, Macedonia and Romania, the State Department said Thursday.

The four nations' participation has brought the membership of the initiative launched last July to 24 countries together with an observer, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Other partner nations include Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Japan.

Partner countries will meet in Kazakhstan in June to review the progress of Global Initiative activities, to address gaps in implementation, and to welcome Cambodia and other new partner nations, the department said.

The initiative calls for collaboration in efforts at, among other things, improving control of nuclear materials, and detecting and cracking down on illicit trafficking of such materials.
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