05/17/2016, 19.13
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As drought continues in Cambodia, water shortages force children to stay away from school

Only one school in three can provide pupils with drinking water. In some places, up to 40 per cent of students are staying away. UNICEF figures show that 24 per cent of children are underweight. A ministerial order “cut the school day by one hour to avoid tiring children too much,” said PIME missionary. But rain is falling in some provinces.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The drought that has affected Cambodia and other Southeast Asian nations (including Laos, Thailand and Singapore) for months is having a particular severe impact on rural areas where villagers are struggling to get water drinking. In many places, ponds and reservoirs are running dry, the little water left contaminated with debris.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Water Resources issued a note, saying that country has suffered “dry and scorching" weather since December 2015, peaking this April and May. The highest temperature was reached in Preah Vinhear province with 42.6 Celsius. El Niño was the main factor.

The heatwave has been particularly bad for children. According to UNICEF, 32 per cent of children under five are short for their age, 24 per cent are underweight, and 10 per cent suffer from acute malnutrition.

Water shortages are particularly serious in public schools. Over a third have been impacted and 50 per cent of children lack sufficient water, according to Cha Sophea, director of Primary Education at the Ministry of Education.

About “30-40 per cent of my children haven’t come to school,” said Pim Bun Leap, a school principal in Tboung Khmum Province, “because it’s too hot. Sometimes their parents keep them home so they can help bring water from distant sources.”

“In some areas the emergency remains high,” said PIME missionary Fr Alberto Caccaro. “This is why the government has issued a ministerial order to cut the school day by one hour to avoid tiring children too much.”

"The drought has hit the north-western provinces, on the border with Thailand,” he explained. However, “Last week I was in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, two far-eastern provinces on the border with Vietnam. Fortunately, they have water and things are no longer as bad."

Rural households, 80 per cent of the Cambodian population, are the ones that suffer the most. Drought means higher prices for basic goods. Water for three/four days can cost up to 5,000 riels (US$ 1.30). Families also have to pay 500 riels for their children’s bottled water in schools.

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