The first ever Children’s Environmental Health (CEH) assessment was jointly presented by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF on August 25 in Phnom Penh, unveiling important findings and recommendations.

According to a UNICEF press statement, the CEH evaluation offers a comprehensive overview of the prevailing state of minors’ ecological wellbeing in Cambodia. It underscores prominent perils faced by youth, encompassing exposure to air pollution, water and food contamination, toxic metals, pesticides and hazardous waste.

The collaborative endeavour incorporated over 29 departments across both national and sub-national levels, including the ministries of Health; Environment; Mines and Energy; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation.

UNICEF representative Will Parks labelled the climate crisis as a child rights emergency. Exposing children to intensified and damaging ecological threats imperils their basic rights, notably the right to survive and thrive.

“These early shocks in life diminish children’s potential to be a future generation of leaders and contributors to their country’s economy and prosperity. The more we understand the situation, the more we can advocate and act urgently to support the most vulnerable communities,” he said.

The release also highlighted the fact that a concurrent surge in air pollution, e-waste, and the usage of harmful chemicals in everyday items was linked to the worldwide surge in conditions like cancer, diabetes, neurodevelopmental disorders and asthma.

A UNICEF estimation revealed that globally, three hundred million children reside in regions where air toxicity exceeds international guidelines by sixfold. In Cambodia, nearly one in five deaths among children under 5 was attributed to atmospheric contaminants. The World Health Organisation (WHO) underscored that over a quarter of toddler deaths could be forestalled by addressing these risks.

Kol Hero, director of the health ministry’s Preventive Medicine Department, underscored the importance of acknowledging the review and urged immediate collective action and augmented investment to counter these concerns and safeguard children.

“This analysis stands as a prized asset for stakeholders committed to fostering a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable environment for our children and future generations,” he said.

The CEH report’s principal recommendations encompass bolstering policies, regulations, and their enforcement to prevent and manage pollutant and contaminant exposure. Equipping healthcare professionals to address eco-health concerns, enhancing public awareness and community involvement in addition to youth engagement in climate change were emphasised. The enhancement of research, monitoring, and surveillance was also advocated.