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Poor Sanitation Triggers Child Health Concerns

Poor sanitation affects 84 percent of rural Cambodians, leading to a high incidence of diarrhea and putting Cambodia low on the list of clean countries, UN health officials say.

Only 65 percent of people outside urban centers have access to safe water, the UN says.

Four out of five people in the agricultural country live outside the cities.

"Water and sanitation have been identified as one of the major causes of the high diarrhea incidence in Cambodia," Unicef Cambodia Project Officer Hilda Winarta said. "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."

Tan Try, a Unicef spokesman, said working with local communities to improve access to safe water and sanitation is one of the organization's Cambodian projects. Known as "Seth Koma" in Khmer, the project helps families with safe water use.

"We provided community hygiene classes to teach villagers how to safely use the water," Tan Try told VOA Khmer. For example, he said, "for some areas that do not have safe water, villagers need to boil water to drink."

One village recently built a new well, giving 10 families access to clean water. An information board nearby clearly explains hygiene. Over the past year, such projects have protected Cambodians from water-borne illnesses.

Unicef began preparations Monday for the International Year of Sanitation in 2008.