Health Concerns at Crowded Prisons, Flood Evacuation Sites

Aid organizations on Friday raised concerns over the deteriorating sanitation and health situation at evacuation sites for flood victims and at prisons, which are now far over capacity after the Banteay Meanchey provincial prison flooded on Thursday, requiring the transfer of inmates to other, already crowded, detention centers.

Siem Reap provincial prison, which was built to hold about 1,000 people, now has 1,700.

“At 9 p.m. on Thursday night, 492 prisoners, including women and children, arrived at the Siem Reap prison after Banteay Meanchey prison was evacuated,” when floodwater broke a wall and burst into the prison grounds Thursday, said Sar Vannar, prison researcher for local rights group Licadho.

“We are worried about the health of the prisoners because the maximum [capacity] is 1,000 and there is also a little bit of flood water” at the Siem Reap prison, Mr. Vannar said, adding that a solution needed to be found as soon as possible.

“If they keep hundreds of prisoners beyond the prison’s capacity, it will create problems with health and prisoners’ control,” he said.

At evacuation sites, where more than 21,000 families have set up temporary shelter, according to figures from the Cambodian Red Cross, poor hygiene and sanitation has become a major issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“The main concern now is water-borne disease, particularly acute watery diarrhea and respiratory diseases,” Sonny Krishnan, communications officer for the WHO, said Friday.

“The number of cases has gone up because people are more vulnerable because they are internally displaced,” and often lack latrines, clean drinking water and proper protection from the rain, he said.

In elderly and very young people, acute watery diarrhea can be a major cause of death, but Mr. Krishnan said the Ministry of Health was assessing the situation and was expected to release data next week.

Kim Sourphirum, director of Kompong Cham province’s health department, said that children in particular were contracting diseases at the evacuation sites.

“Almost all people who have diarrhea are under the age of 10,” he said.

Suong Sophea, advocacy adviser for Save the Children Cambodia, said that her team, which was working in Kompong Cham province’s Batheay, Kroch Chhmar and Srei Santhor districts, had documented at least 300 sick children.

“All of them live at the evacuation areas where the hygiene and sanitation in general is bad, and most of them had skin disease, flu, coughs, diarrhea and vomiting,” Ms. Sophea said.

“The fact that people live under tents and share it with livestock and their cattle causes disease as well. There is cow and other animal dung everywhere,” she said.

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