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Cambodian children walk to school

Rural children walk together to school in Cambodia as one young girl catches up with the others. Image: WFP

(WNN) Washington D.C., UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: Considered the world’s most valuable fluid, fresh clean water is a commodity that can become a life-and-death issue. Lack of it can also contribute to a child’s absenteeism rate in Cambodia, says a newly released study report by Research Advisor Helen Risebro and Professor Paul Hunter from the Norwich School of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, located in the United Kingdom.

Working together with partners on-the-ground that include safe drinking water advocates Teuk Saat 1001 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, along with European partners at the Faculty of Medicine University of Lorraine in Nancy, France and the Fondation Mérieux in Lyon, France, a study of eight schools in Cambodia gave insights into whether safe drinking water can play an important part in childhood school attendance.

Over the past decade it has been found that meals at school, including take-away meals, can encourage more children to go to school in global regions where poverty is a common denominator. Now discoveries in providing safe water for students to drink each day can also work to build up school attendance says the data. But the data is also showing that the use of clean drinking water to woo students to school may not work during the rainy season in Cambodia.

This is an interesting factor that researchers considered carefully.

In the study all students in half of the eight schools studied received sanitized 20 liter (33.8 fluid ounce) bottles containing safe filtered and ultra-violet disinfected water daily. For almost a year and a half from December 4, 2011 to May 31, 2012 the study gathered attendance data in order to come to its conclusions.

“This leaves the question of what was the mechanism between water supply provision and absenteeism,” says the study.

While there is concern over the exposure of children to contaminated water at home and at school, especially in rural locations, the study’s conclusion points to the fact that the negative effects of dehydration on children may be a leading factor that is keeping them from attending school if they don’t feel as well at certain times of the year.

“Even if, as we suspect, the main reason for the reduced absenteeism in the intervention group is due to improved hydration rather than a reduction in waterborne disease, this should not be taken as an indication that the provision of water of any quality would be acceptable. The link between contaminated drinking water and disease risk is well accepted and it is clear that the main risk falls on young children,” continues the study.

Making sure safe water tastes good is also an important point, the study highlighted. Water sanitized with ultra-violent light is much more tasty than chlorinated water, and will encourage more children to drink. Helping children who otherwise might face days where their intake of water could be limited can cause dehydration. Due to a shortage of safe water to drink many school children in Cambodia may be suffering from chronic dehydration.

Enabling child students to have easy access to bottles of safe water that tastes good too may be a large and beneficial discovery and one that deserves more study, says the research team.

Because numerous children are pulled out of school during the harvesting season in Cambodia, getting children to attend school as much as possible is a high goal for those working to give Cambodian children greater opportunities. Providing safe drinking water during school hours may end up being an easy way to help children continue to stay in school and improve general child health also through better daily hydration.

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