With 60,000 people having fled floods across Cambodia in the past two weeks, and floodwater still not receding, aid workers are warning about the outbreak of water-related diseases due to a lack of sanitation and hygiene in evacuation sites.
In its latest update on the emergency on 8 October the non-governmental Humanitarian Response Forum of emergency responders in Cambodia found “sizable gaps” in sanitation and water quality even in what has been deemed “safe areas”, which carry “dire risks for widespread outbreaks of waterborne and excreta-related diseases”.
Acute watery diarrhoea is one of the main causes for morbidity or mortality among the most young as well as elderly.
“Young children and other vulnerable persons with compromised immunity or malnutrition are at risk to suffer the greatest from contaminated water sources and increased pathogens within the environment.
Moreover, the lack of private and secure sanitation facilities undermines the health, welfare and security of girls and women in congested living spaces,” the update noted.
Sonny Krishnan, communications officer for the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said there has recently been an increase in reports of respiratory and diarrhoeal disease, but no figures are available as yet.
A total of 160,000 households have been affected by flooding that first hit 10 of the country’s 24 provinces (including the administrative area of the capital, Phnom Penh) in late September, and has since spread to an additional six provinces as heavy rains overfilled dams, causing flash floods and inundating roads, according to the National Committee for Disaster Management.
NGO Caritas Cambodia said it has provided emergency kits, including 25kg of rice as well as sanitary pads, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and water containers to about 4,000 families in Kompong Cham, Kratie, Ratanakkiri, Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces.
The NGO’s executive director, Kim Rattana, told IRIN many areas are still waterlogged and impassable, where thousands of families await assistance.
“Water, sanitation products and health care [are] still needed in most areas,” Kim said.
Suong Sok Sophea, advocacy adviser for Save the Children Cambodia, said her organization had given health centres chloramine tablets to purify water; they are being distributed to nearly 3,500 families.
Sar Bora, a village chief who has been staying at an evacuation site of about 1,300 people in Tbong Khmum District in the eastern province of Kompong Cham, said emergency kits provided by Caritas have nearly run out.
“The food and the other products won't last much longer, but the water is still not receding, so we have to stay here,” Sar said.
The latest weather reports indicate that while water levels in the River Mekong have fallen and are expected to continue doing so, bad weather upstream can cause a “significant deterioration of the situation in the Mekong basin”, the humanitarian forum's update noted.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions