By Yemi Lufadeju
Stung Treng province, Cambodia, August 2018 -- Greng Pham (14) starts her day at sunrise before the rest of her family. She puts the first rays of sunlight to good use by reading a book in the tranquil woodland surroundings of her home in Ou Chay village, one of several communes along the Sekong River in northern Cambodia.
As her siblings and parents rise, she starts to clean their stilt house and prepare for her day. “Greng loves school,” her mother Chung Phy, a rice farmer said. “She was the second-best student in her grade,” she added beaming with pride.
During the monsoon season, rain collected in a reservoir was their safest source of drinking water, but otherwise, before school, Greng and her siblings would collect water from the river and boil it to drink and use it to cook their meals and clean their home.
Greng’s routine was disrupted a week ago when the commune chief alerted them that their village was at risk of flooding. A breached dam in neighbouring Laos had caused the Sekong River to overflow its banks. An emergency flood response plan had been activated and her village was being evacuated to higher ground.
Hurriedly, Greng walked to the designated safe area a kilometre away from their home with her sister Pom (5), brothers Cham, (10), and Pan (12) and their mother following closely behind.
“We we’re all scared,” Greng said. “But when we got to the hill, we felt safe there. We received tents, mosquito nets and other things.” She added.
An emergency response led by the National, Provincial, District and Commune Committees for Disaster Management, with support from UNICEF and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), alerted communities of the impending dangers of the rising river levels and provided support and information needed for families to stay safe.
In Stung Treng, over 5,500 families were affected by the floods and 16 schools were inundated. According to the District Committee for Disaster Management in Santepheap commune alone, 360 families were evacuated to a safe place, 83 of them from Greng’s village - Ou Chay.
To prevent water borne diseases like diarrhoea, the response team distributed one water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kit per household which includes one water filter, water purification kit, one kettle, six stainless steel cups, a keg, a nail cutter, handkerchief and a bar of soap. Families also received sachets of detergent, buckets and jerry-cans prepositioned by UNICEF. These products were provided to the Royal Government of Cambodia earlier in the year, to support WASH emergency preparedness and response systems.
In addition to these items, plastic tents, mosquito nets and sleeping mats among other things were also distributed.
Even after families have returned home, there is still more to be done by emergency responders as teams visit families in their homes to monitor the use of distributed items.
“Providing emergency WASH kits is important, and just as important as the distribution of these products is speaking to families about ways they can maintain healthy habits such as handwashing and ensure water is safe to drink. These healthy habits are essential for preventing the spread of waterborne diseases,’ said Sopharo Oum, WASH Officer, UNICEF.
Greng’s family is back home from the safe ground, and she’s pleased by the new habits she can add to her old routine - habits that will improve the quality of the water they drink and their hygiene.
“The things we were given are very important. We didn’t have some of these things before, but now that we do, we see how useful they are to stay healthy.” Greng said explaining how helpful it was to find out more about hygiene practices and how to make sure drinking water was purified and stored safely.