Unicef’s representative to Cambodia on Friday strongly urged government departments and NGOs to step up efforts to reduce malnutrition by identifying and refocusing their priorities in a country where 1 in 3 children are stunted.
Action plans to reduce malnutrition among children—which leaves them smaller, cognitively impaired and more likely to become ill—must be re-evaluated so they meet global sustainable development goals to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, Unicef’s Debora Comini told parliamentarians, NGO representatives and university students at an event marking the government’s third annual National Nutrition Day.
A set of 17 goals, adopted by U.N. member states last year, covers development areas such as poverty, malnutrition, clean water, sanitation and affordable clean energy.
“To achieve them, Cambodia needs to now step up its efforts, especially in nutrition,” Ms. Comini said.
She recommended the establishment of a monitoring framework for the work carried out by the government and NGOs, but did not give further details.
“Giving access to services is no longer sufficient,” she said. “We need to know the quality of these services. For example, if a water supply is available near a school, we should also know if the water is actually free of contamination and safe to drink.”
Ms. Comini also called on the government to increase funding for ministries leading the country’s response to malnutrition.
In 2014, Cambodia Demographic Health Survey researchers found that 32 percent of all children under the age of 5 were stunted, and 24 percent were underweight.
“Many branches of government need to be involved and equally committed to increase current funding for nutrition-specific interventions that, according to a recent analysis led by the Ministry of Health, may be as low as 0.1 percent of the total expenditure of the same ministry,” she said, referencing data from 2014.
Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chay Ly said that despite making progress in addressing the leading factors contributing to stunting, such as exposure to fecal matter and unclean drinking water, more work was needed.
“Our technical working group on water supply, sanitation and hygiene reported that nationwide 50 percent of people can access water and 46 percent can access latrines. However, this achievement is not enough,” he said.
Officials in Kampot province on Friday announced the success of a program aimed at ending “open defecation,” in which people relieve themselves outdoors, as the practice leads to contaminated water and other health issues. Every household in Banteay Meas district, they said, now has access to a toilet.
Since 2012, district health officials and community leaders such as school principals have worked with SNV Cambodia, an NGO mostly funded by the Dutch government, to teach the importance of using proper toilets, said Sunetra Lala, head of the organization’s hygiene and sanitation department.
“We train people and raise their awareness about the health and social benefits of using toilets and then we link up the toilet suppliers with the communities,” she said.