Cambodia may be known to most people in the world for being a top vacation spot in Southeast Asia. This country, which is bordered by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, is home to some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring historical temples, one of the major attractions that draw tourists from across the globe. But despite a boost in tourism and being rich in natural resources, the nation remains to be one of the poorest countries in the world based on social and economic indicators. What are the reasons why Cambodia is struggling with poverty?
Years Of Violence And Political Instability.
10th and 13th Centuries – Cambodia is part of the Angkor Empire that extended over most of Southeast Asia. Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers who are descendants of the Angkor Empire. The empire was weakened due to attacks from the Thai and Cham, resulting in a long period of decline.
1863 – The king placed Cambodia under French protection, and the country became part of French Indochina in 1887. Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953.
World War II – The nation is occupied by the Japanese.
1969 – 1973 – The Vietnam War extended into the country; the United States conducts several bombings in Cambodia.
1975 – The Khmer Rouge take Phnom Penh, evacuating all cities and towns. During its rain, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for killing approximately 1.5 million Cambodians, comprising professionals and intellectuals (including doctors, teachers, and lawyers), ethnic Khmer and ethnic minority groups. By the end of the Khmer Rouge’s reign, there were only about 50 doctors left for a population of about 14 million. They also destroyed temples and buildings that were considered Western.
1978 – The Vietnamese invade Cambodia beginning a 10-year occupation.
1970s – 1980s – Civil War ensues; different factions and governments plant landmines in the whole territory of the country. A survey conducted in 2002 reported that 20% of all villages in Cambodia were still contaminated by minefields and/or cluster bomb areas. These resulted in restrictions of certain areas that included water resources, forests, and land for agriculture and pasture. A high percentage of Cambodians have been killed, injured, or amputated due to the mines. Some of the victims included heads of households, adversely affecting the earnings and living conditions of the family.
- The Khmer Rouge regime rejected and prohibited the use of Western medicine. They also executed doctors, leaving people to depend on local and unregulated medication.
- Due to corruption, bribery, and extortion fees, Cambodians have to pay for health services that should have otherwise been free. Or they end up paying more than what they should.
- In the 1990s, about half of the Cambodians who sold their land needed the money in order to pay for medical bills.
- Healthcare workers are underpaid (earning wages below the poverty line) or poorly trained. This leads to more corruption, bad diagnosis, and wrong treatments.
- According to a 2014 report, as of 2012 there were 8 national hospitals, 82 referral hospitals, 123 health posts, and 1,029 health centers in Cambodia.
- The health service in private hospitals is as bad as in public ones that some Cambodians prefer to seek treatment in Thailand, even if it means having to sell land or borrowing money.
- In 2012, 32% of children in Cambodia under 5 years of age were stunted.
- The 2015 UNDP Human Development Report pegs the average life expectancy of Cambodians at 68.4 years.
Most Of The Population Live In The Rural Areas And Depend On Agriculture.
- 90% of Cambodia’s 4.8 million poor people live in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but 12 percent of them are landless.
- Landmines continue to be a problem for 8 out of 10 Cambodians who live in rural areas. These mines prohibit agricultural development.
- Most farmers still use traditional farming methods at the subsistence level, so productivity is low. The lack of infrastructure also makes agricultural more vulnerable to climate change and severe weather patterns.
- Of the 1.6 million households in the country, two-thirds experience seasonal food shortages every year.
- The poorest in Cambodia live in remote villages and are isolated. They are far from basic social services and facilities. Some have to travel more than 3 miles to get to the nearest road or health clinic.
Natural Resources Are Being Exploited.
- Cambodia is steadily losing its forests and their resources due to deforestation, mining, illegal farming practices, among other reasons. Between 2000 and 2012, it lost more than 7% of its forest cover, the fifth fastest rate in the world.
Investment Opportunities Aren’t Too Attractive And There Is a Lack Of Skilled Workers.
- More than 50% of the population is 25 years old or younger. Most of them don’t receive education higher than the secondary level. This results in a lack of experienced workers and talent who can help with the country’s development.
- Due to the lack of infrastructure, a weak financial market, corruption, and an ineffective legal system, local and foreign businesses have been discouraged in investing in Cambodia. The lack of SMEs and large enterprises has stifled the creation of new jobs, further increasing poverty.
The Food Price Crisis.
- The country has not been able to cope well with the increasing prices of food and energy. In the last decade, rural wages have been increased twofold to threefold, but this still was not enough to keep up with the increasing food prices. This resulted in a cut down on food intake and to more children dropping out of school and entering child labor to help their families earn more.
Cambodia’s economy has experienced strong growth in the past couple of years. The tourism, garment, construction, real estate, and agriculture sectors are the main contributors to this growth. However, the country still faces a lot of of challenges in fighting problems that prohibit development and exacerbate poverty. The international community and NGOs continue to help Cambodia with its many pressing needs, with 30% of the government budget coming from donor assistance.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.