Human Trafficking in CambodiaHuman trafficking in Cambodia is growing and in need of action. In 2016, 40 million men, women and children were victims of human trafficking globally. Of these 40 million victims, 71% were women and girls and 29% were men. In this same year, modern slavery involved 15 million forced marriages and more than 25 million people in forced labor. Overall, the illegal sale of human beings generates more than $33 billion annually. In 2005, Chab Dai, a nonprofit, committed to aiding the recovery of survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. Because human trafficking is the second-largest illegal trade network in the globe, Chab Dai’s work is vital. Chab Dai helps to grow the anti-trafficking movement and help survivors reintegrate into society while combating stigma.

Human Trafficking in Cambodia

At this time, Cambodia is backsliding in its progress in the fight against human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, Cambodia ranks as a Tier 2 Watch List country because it “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” However, Cambodia has remained on this ranking for three years in a row, indicating stagnation in human trafficking progress. On top of “insufficient government oversight and accountability measures,” the main inhibitors of progress are the lack of investigations by officials, inadequate government protection services and ineffective judicial monitoring, among other issues. Ultimately, the systems in place tend to enable traffickers rather than punish them.

The Work of Chab Dai in Cambodia

Over the past 15 years, Chab Dai has worked to combat human trafficking in Cambodia by bolstering education initiatives about sexual abuse and human trafficking. The organization also trains authorities and healthcare officials on how to respect and support survivors. Additionally, Chab Dai advocates directly for policy changes in the Cambodian government and provides free legal support to survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. The nonprofit helps to bring trafficked people back to their home countries and provides counseling as victims try to return to their normal lives. Furthermore, Chab Dai has a strong focus on helping survivors make a living, form healthy relationships in their personal lives and heal from their trauma.

The Butterfly Project

As part of its reintegration work, Chab Dai conducts research based on interviews with survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. All of the collected anti-trafficking research forms part of The Butterfly Project, which began in 2010. The organization publishes routine reports on how to successfully heal, recover and return to society after being sex trafficked. Moreover, the project guides experts, law enforcement, doctors and other nonprofits on how to best help survivors.

The research includes two to three interviews a year with 128 survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. The 128 interviewees are 80% women and 20% men. Additionally, the interviewees come from many different development programs all run through Chab Dai.

The study promotes holistic care, cultural tolerance in the healing process and religious freedom. So, one of the most prominent findings is the benefits of diverse religious practices. Chab Dai empowers survivors to ask challenging questions of different faiths. This is a proven form of suicide prevention, increased emotional stability and community building as survivors seek a new normal. Because of this, Chab Dai is working to fight religious intolerance among other NGOs working to support survivors.

Looking Forward

Ultimately, Chab Dai’s successes in The Butterfly Project empower survivors to speak up. The research aids consultation with other NGOs on how best to address the unique needs of survivors in the reintegration process. By listening to victims, Chab Dai is able to cater its initiatives to the specific needs of survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia.

– Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Esports Are Making an Impact on Global Poverty
For years, video games have had a bad reputation in the media, with critics citing problems such as increased laziness and aggressiveness in youth as a byproduct. However, video games have proven to be a useful resource and are beneficial to many across the globe. Here are some ways in which esports (electronic sports) impacts global poverty.

Tournaments for Charity

In response to the effects of COVID-19, several streamers and gaming tournaments have directed their profits toward charities. The recent Gamers Without Borders tournament was the largest esports charity event in history. The proceeds went toward various global organizations such as UNICEF and the International Medical Corps. Operating in more than 190 countries, UNICEF is an organization that has worked to minimize global poverty among youth for more than 75 years. Meanwhile, since 1984, the International Medical Corps has been providing medical aid to countries experiencing crises, including several impoverished nations. His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan has even recognized Gamers Without Borders. He is also the chairman of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS).

Games for Good

Popular games in the esports scene are also contributing to good causes. More than 50 million daily active users in China play the popular mobile game “Game For Peace.” The game helps raise awareness of underrepresented communities. Recently, the game introduced the Miao ethnic minority culture in Chongqing to the game. The annual per capita income of the village is just half of the national average. The game included the Miao people as a way of raising awareness about their livelihoods, such as their embroidery and farms. This could help alleviate poverty among the Miao people by creating a demand for their goods. Tourism has also contributed to the village’s economy, which more than tripled between 2012 and 2019.

Hope for Low-income Players

Another way in which esports impacts global poverty is by raising awareness of low-income groups. As the esports and video game industries grow, there is a demand for new jobs within these industries. In Brazil, the team Zero Gravity emerged, only hiring low-income players. Tournaments like the Favelas Cup and the Favelas Bowl occurred, providing those in need chances to win large money prizes. As the esports industry continues to grow in Brazil, many have the chance to escape poverty through careers, as displayed in this emerging industry. With millions of dollars of prize money on the line and average salaries of six figures, people have many financial incentives to join in.

Creating New Job Industries

In addition to Brazil, Cambodia, a nation still suffering from the effects of a civil war, is also tapping into this now billion-dollar esports industry. Cambodia had a poverty rate of 13.5% in 2014, with many of its citizens living in rural areas. However, the introduction of new technology has helped lessen the prevalence of poverty. Innovations such as smartphones and the internet have helped the country grow and improve its education system. As the country seeks to become more digitized, new sponsorship and career opportunities arise for video game players. These investments aim to help Cambodian gamers get more exposure at international tournaments, allowing this developing nation to break into the industry.

As the esports industry continues to grow, so do opportunities to aid the globally impoverished. Esports impacts global poverty by supporting gamers from around the world.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Pixabay

theater accessibilityThe theater is an art form that cultures all across the world partake in. In addition to being enjoyable for many people, exposure to the theater is beneficial. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania on impoverished residents of New York City found that residents had better long-term outcomes in areas such as “education, security and health” with greater accessibility to cultural resources. Additionally, theater helps people develop emotionally by cultivating empathy, a humanitarian characteristic essential for molding a generation willing to help others living in poverty. A common aspect of poverty is the lack of opportunities available to people. Improving theater accessibility for impoverished people is one way to provide people in poverty with more opportunities.

3 Organizations Improving Theater Accessibility

  1. The Freedom Theatre. This organization is based in the Jenin refugee camp, a camp in the West Bank with a high poverty rate. The Freedom Theater provides Jenin residents with opportunities to engage in theater and workshops through programs in schools. The theater works with children of varying ages. For example, the daycare program allows children younger than 5 to learn and develop creatively. Modeled off Care and Learning, a project that helped children in the Jenin camp work through trauma by participating in the arts, The Freedom Theatre continues this mission by working with young people to help them develop coping skills. The Freedom Theatre’s work greatly improved theater accessibility in an area that previously had few theatrical opportunities for its residents. Thanks to the European Union funding the project, The Freedom Theatre can continue its work.
  2. Khmer Community Development (KCD). The KCD organization is in the Prek Chrey Commune, a community in Cambodia near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. KCD commits itself to improving peace and understanding in Prek Chrey. Ethnic tension between different groups in the community is an issue that Prek Chrey continues to struggle with, but KCD is addressing it with theater. Using Forum Theater, an art form developed by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, KCD encourages discussion and exploration of social issues by having actors perform a short play that addresses a social issue. Thereafter, the performance is restarted to allow the audience to intervene with ideas to shape the play and develop “a peaceful solution to the issue.” Since it started, KCD’s Forum Theater is particularly popular among youth in the Prek Chrey Commune.
  3. New Africa Theater Association (NATA). Based in Cape Town, South Africa, NATA works to provide opportunities to underserved young people in the Cape Town area. In South Africa, many people between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. These young people are also often not receiving an education. With this age group having access to theater, the youth develop valuable skills to secure employment. More than 87% of NATA alumni are employed, in school or are continuing to work with NATA. After acquiring its own building, NATA moved to a location where it is more easily accessible to people in Cape Town and surrounding rural areas.

Thanks to the efforts of these three organizations, theater accessibility is improving for disadvantaged people. Importantly, the arts contribute to social well-being while providing valuable opportunities to help vulnerable people rise out of poverty.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

clean cooking initiativesFor most people, their day starts with tea or coffee followed by a light breakfast, available with minimum effort. For those less fortunate, this simple morning routine requires hours of backbreaking labor. Solid cooking fuels like wood and coal are necessities in much of the world, but in addition to contributing to climate change, they perpetuate poverty. This is partly because those who depend on this type of energy risk health problems from Household Air Pollution (HAP) and partly because solid cooking fuels can be labor-intensive to acquire and use. Over the past two decades, an overwhelming body of research has cited clean cooking as a primary target for policy reform. It furthers all eight of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and five of its Sustainability Development Goals. Several exemplary clean cooking initiatives are making a difference today.

More Access to Energy, Less Poverty

Several studies attempt to quantify the damage caused by solid fuel. Lost productivity resulting from resource collection prevents an estimated 2.6 billion people from escaping poverty, disproportionately affecting women. Children’s school attendance also decreases when they must spend large amounts of time gathering fuel, hampering their education. People’s health also suffers from solid fuel. Indoor pollution from dirty energy — six times deadlier than outdoor — creates an estimated $10.6 billion in healthcare costs yearly in rural China alone. Not to mention, HAP reduces lifespans in affected populations by 20 years. It causes between 1.6 and four million premature deaths annually, second only to unsafe water in deaths caused. “Dirty” cooking fuels also produce an estimated 2% of carbon emissions, roughly equivalent to the pollution from all global air travel.

Clean Energy and Poverty Reduction

A widely cited 2004 paper argued that clean cooking protocols had high potential for poverty reduction and encouraged the creation of federal and intergovernmental agencies to manage a 10- to 15-year plan to implement them. Nonetheless, 15 years later, a Draft Energy Policy commissioned by the Indian government concluded that “clean cooking fuel has been the biggest casualty of lack of coordination between different energy Ministries.

“Not only India but also the international community has failed to leverage a low-cost opportunity with enormous benefits. The global cost of clean fuels for those lacking them totals only $50 billion per year or roughly 0.2% of a developed nation’s GDP. Diverse clean cooking initiatives at all levels are not only essential to poverty reduction, they are achievable.

Clean Cooking in Haiti

World Central Kitchen (WCK) originated during relief efforts following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake and continues providing meals to vulnerable populations. Most recently, Founder and Chef José Andrés closed several restaurants to feed low-income people during the pandemic. But WCK has evolved beyond catastrophe response to become a global leader in culinary activism, including clean cooking.

Following the initial work in Haiti, the organization created the #HaitiBreathes campaign to improve school lunch programs. Observing that “children who eat during the day do better in school,” the campaign has helped 140 schools convert their kitchens to use liquid propane, benefitting 65,000 students and school cooks. Preventing child labor associated with solid fuels is fundamental to poverty reduction. The campaign’s culinary education component and infrastructure upgrades also offer long-term socioeconomic and health benefits by improving sanitation and food safety.

Clean Cooking in Kenya

An estimated 15,700 premature deaths per year in Kenya are attributable to HAP. These deaths are preventable as 75% of households know of clean cooking subsidies and programs, yet 70% remain unable to buy a clean cookstove because of the high prices. Of those who make the relatively expensive upgrade, 60% say the fuel cost for their preferred cookstove is too high, and they are forced to endure the enormous health and productivity effects of purportedly “cheaper” alternatives.

In conjunction with the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya, native chef and Clean Cooking Alliance Ambassador Susan Kamau educates underserved communities on solid fuel issues. The #CookCleanForKenya program transitions individuals to sustainable fuels; its Facebook page details success stories and explains the nefarious consequences of open fire cooking. By marketing innovative products like the Cookswell Energy Efficient Charcoal Oven, the initiative connects consumers to various clean cooking options. Local figures like Kamau understand local impediments better than a foreign NGO does, making partnerships like this one especially effective.

Clean Cooking in Cambodia

Twenty percent of Cambodians live in poverty, and for them, alternatives to solid fuel are unattainable. People rely mainly on wood for fuel, causing a decline in forest cover from 73% in 1965 to 59% in 2006. Low-cost and temporary clean cooking options are the best way to create meaningful change. One study found that simply introducing flues, though it did not decrease carbon emissions, caused a 75% reduction in negative HAP health outcomes.

The Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative produces high-efficiency stoves that cost only $1.50 and reduce fuel consumption by 60%. This female-staffed company enables clean cooking at a grassroots level while also promoting sustainable economic growth. It makes up a mere 5% of the national cookstove market, but the project represents a 700,000-ton decrease in harvested wood and a 500,000-ton decrease in carbon emissions yearly. Although financed through international agencies, this dynamic business creates local change.

Clean cooking initiatives like those led by the WCK in Haiti, the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya and the Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative in Cambodia are vital to creating clean energy, aiding low-income families and making progress in alleviating global poverty. With continued efforts from nonprofits and individuals alike, the international community takes one step toward reducing global poverty through clean cooking initiatives.

– Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam's Foreign Aid When COVID-19 rates began rising in China in the winter of 2019, Vietnam, one of its near neighbors, did not hesitate to act. After experiencing devastating blows in previous years from the SARS virus, another respiratory illness, and the H5N1 virus, Vietnam acted quickly. The government of Vietnam instituted quarantines in cities throughout the country, began contract tracing within the first couple of months of the outbreak and focused on keeping the public as educated as possible. Between January and April 16, 2020, Vietnam recorded fewer than 400 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. Furthermore, for almost 100 days after this period, Vietnam had zero cases of local transmission. Now, Vietnam’s foreign aid looks to help Vietnam’s neighbors, Laos and Cambodia.

COVID-19 in Laos and Cambodia

In April 2021, Laos and Cambodia suffered a surge of COVID-19 cases that brought concern o Vietnam. Vietnam expressed distress that April’s major national holidays would encourage a spike within Vietnam with people traveling between different countries, undoing Vietnam’s COVID-19 progress. In order to mitigate concerns of rising cases and the risk to Vietnam, Vietnam opted to extend foreign aid to Laos and Cambodia.

Helping Cambodia

In April 2021, the recently appointed Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Jakarta, Indonesia, “on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that had gathered to discuss the Myanmar crisis.” Shortly thereafter, discussions began about continued measures to decrease the impacts of COVID-19. Vietnam agreed to give foreign aid to Cambodia to strengthen its response to COVID-19. This came in the form of a $500,000 donation, “800 respirators, two million medical masks and 300,000 N95 masks.” In this act of aid, Vietnam expresses its close diplomatic relations with Cambodia.

Assisting Laos

Similar discussions also took place with Laos. In anticipation of more cross-border travel because of holiday festivities, Vietnam also offered foreign aid to Laos to strengthen its COVID-19 response. In a similar fashion to Cambodia, Laos also experienced a spike in cases toward the end of April 2021, however, the total number of deaths remains low at just five deaths.

According to The Laotian Times, in early May 2021, the Vietnamese government gave Laos $500,000 as well as medical resources and the support of 35 medical staff to help the country in its fight against COVID-19. The medical workers and resources from Vietnam arrived in Laos at Wattay International Airport. The medical supplies included “200 respirators, 10,000 kilograms of chloramine and two million face masks.”

A Beacon of Hope

Vietnam’s success against COVID-19 is a source of pride for the country. Vietnam’s COVID-19 response has also served as an inspiration to neighboring countries. The tactics put in place early on by the Vietnamese government helped facilitate its success in subsequent months when cases were rising elsewhere. Vietnam’s foreign aid during COVID-19 is helping its neighbors regain hope in recovery. Hopefully, as Vietnam’s foreign aid of both monetary stimulus and medical assistance helps countries recover, other countries will be inspired to reach out a helping hand as well.

– Grace Parker
Photo: Flickr

Rice ATMs in VietnamIn the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneur Hoang Tuan Anh created a network of rice ATMs in Vietnam to help alleviate poverty and address food insecurity due to reduced household incomes. Vietnamese celebrity Dai Nghia drew inspiration from the initiative’s widespread success. On May 14, 2021, Nghia donated 15 tons of rice to distribute through four new rice ATMs in Cambodia. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, rice ATMs have proven successful in feeding those struggling with food insecurity in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Rice ATMs in Vietnam

The rice ATMs in Vietnam, coined by Tuan Anh, dispense 3.3 pounds of rice at a time to people in need. During Vietnam’s initial COVID-19 lockdown, about five million people became unemployed, pushing millions into poverty. The informal working sector took a hard hit as informal employment lacks the security and benefits that formal jobs promise.

The rice ATMs in Vietnam operate 24/7 to ensure food is always accessible to those in need. The ATMs were initially created as a temporary form of assistance during the pandemic, but Tuan Anh pledged to keep them going even after the pandemic in order to reduce hunger for impoverished people. In June 2020, Tuan Anh helped install seven rice ATMs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with the intention of installing rice ATMs in 30 total locations in Vietnam. The entrepreneur aims to open 100 ATMs in the foreseeable future.

Rice ATMs in Cambodia

COVID-19 has harshly impacted Cambodia. Between June 2020 and January 2021, the World Bank identified at least 150,000 “newly poor” households, equating to about 500,000 people. The virus significantly impacted Cambodian industries such as “tourism, manufacturing, exports and construction,” which accounts for 40% of all employment in the country.

Rice ATMs in Cambodia arrive at a crucial time as the country continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The Phnom Penh Red Cross Society is in charge of distributing the donated rice to the four rice ATMs in Cambodia. The rice ATMs in Cambodia were developed and sponsored by the original creator, Tuan Anh.

Largely due to these slowdowns, the economic growth rate in Cambodia decreased by 3.1% in 2020, making it “the sharpest decline in Cambodia’s recent history.” The pandemic has disproportionately affected already impoverished people in Cambodia, causing the poverty rate to double. As the poverty rate is forecasted to reach approximately 17.6%, the rice ATMs serve as a solution to overcoming the increased poverty presented in Cambodia.

The Future of Rice ATMs

Vietnam and Cambodia have strong diplomatic relations. Tuan Anh’s rice ATMs and Nghia’s rice donation in Cambodia have only bolstered the already positive relationship between the countries. In May 2021, The Central Vietnam – Cambodia Friendship Association and Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO) donated more than $200,000 to Cambodia for COVID-19 relief efforts.

For the cities hit hard by the pandemic, the ATMs have served as a vital resource. The creation of rice ATMs in Cambodia will aid many people struggling with pandemic-induced food insecurity. Overall, the project is an example of the power of creativity and technological innovation in the fight against global poverty.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Cambodia
The IDPoor card is a critical resource in the United Nations’ new COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme. This program aims to support socioeconomically disadvantaged citizens who COVID-19 in Cambodia has impacted. The IDPoor card, which the country implemented in October 2020, is a form of payment to impoverished families and individuals that helps them access essential resources like food, housing, healthcare treatment, education and more.

IDPoor Card in Action

The Cash Transfer Programme provides Cambodians with financial resources for housing security and healthcare access. The Cambodian government registers individuals in need of economic assistance and indicates how much aid they can receive. With financial support from the U.N. and UNICEF, the Cambodian government has significantly improved the daily lives of impoverished Cambodians.

Yom Malai is a Cambodian woman who received the IDPoor card and described her experience in a U.N. News Article: “We collect the money from a money transfer service,” she says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a great help for my family. In addition, if we ever need to go to the hospital, we get medical treatment, care and medicine free of charge.”

Malai also explained the review process necessary to receive a card. It includes interviewing applicants and recording details about each household. By doing this, the government gains a holistic picture of each family’s financial resources and needs. Malai’s experience demonstrates the necessity of the IDPoor card in reducing global poverty, particularly in regions that are suffering economically due to COVID-19.

Poverty on the Rise

Even before COVID-19, Cambodians faced a disproportionately high amount of poverty. The U.N. calculated the hypothetical rise of poverty in this region in 2019, predicting that the impoverished population would increase to 17.6%, more than two times the impoverished count in 2019. Moreover, COVID-19 exacerbated many Cambodians’ financial disadvantages as the country’s economy limited jobs and healthcare needs increased. Specifically, the unemployment rate in Cambodia in 2020 was 3.2%, much higher than the 2019 rate of 0.7%.

The Cash Transfer Programme provides financial assistance to citizens registered with an IDPoor card. Each monthly payment depends on a household’s specific situation and needs. The already existing Cash Transfer Programme received further funding and spread to include as many impoverished Cambodians as possible. This act is a ray of hope amid the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia.

For individuals who qualify, the card also acts as a form of medical insurance. It allows registered Cambodians to receive healthcare treatments or consultations without being charged. This healthcare coverage is extremely helpful to families as medical bills and incurred costs are large components of poverty.

In a UNICEF article, a young woman named Leont Yong Phin conveyed how her IDPoor card has helped her. “I’m still paying back a loan from when I got bad typhoid,” she says. “This money means I can repay and afford food. We’ve never had help like this before, it’s so reassuring.”

Encouraging Equity

In addition to providing necessary economic support and medical access, the IDPoor card program is essential for encouraging equity in Cambodia and reducing the disadvantages that come with certain socioeconomic conditions. By reviewing applicants’ economic history and family situation, the government can adequately provide the support necessary to address all citizens’ needs. In this way, the Cash Transfer Programme helps Cambodians with daily expenses and works to end inequity across the country.

Although the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia has been significant, the IDPoor card and Cash Transfer Programme are greatly improving life for many Cambodians. With more support from international organizations like the United Nations, nonprofit organizations and even individuals, the program can provide even more resources to impoverished Cambodians.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Microfinance in CambodiaFinancial institutions, like banks, are vital for the creation, collection and management of a country’s currency. In Cambodia, the microfinance industry acts as a banking system for many people, with around 160,000 branches across Cambodia in 2016. Of the 10 million people in Cambodia, a little more than one in five people have taken out some sort of microloan. Average loans are more than twice as much as the country’s average yearly GDP per person. Microfinance in Cambodia has the potential to help people trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid poverty, but it does not come without consequences.

The Microfinance Boom

In Cambodia, predatory loan sharks with exorbitant rates were the norm until microfinancing came into prominence. Microfinancing offered lower interest rates and shifted residents toward more formal money lending institutions. Microfinance institutions have allowed people to rise out of poverty because people are able to start businesses, fund their education and pay for emergency healthcare. The Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA) sees a clear link between access to credit and reduced levels of poverty. The benefits of microfinance help Cambodia to develop and expand economically. For instance, for farmers who would typically be unable to access improved agricultural equipment, microfinance in Cambodia means sustaining a livelihood.

The Impact of COVID-19

The credit boom in Cambodia did not come without consequences. Firstly, the size of household debt exploded. The average microloan borrower in Cambodia has $3,800 worth of debt, the highest in the world. The IMF and the World Bank have warned that an improperly regulated microfinance industry can push Cambodians further into debt and further into poverty. In 2017, when the Cambodian government responded with policies to cap the interest rates, microfinance institutions, in turn, garnered more money through increased loan fees. Due to the poverty brought on by COVID-19, the debt crisis in Cambodia ballooned. The CMA reports that in March 2020, in response to the impacts of the pandemic, repayments were paused for about 25,000 people and roughly 25,000 loans were restructured to ease financial pressures.

The Outlook of Human Rights Watch

In spite of some debt relief procedures during COVID-19, many Cambodian families are still pushed to the brink of selling their homes and land in order to pay back debts. The Cambodian government received criticism for not doing enough to help indebted Cambodians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) recommended that Cambodia “urgently suspend debt collection and interest accruals for micro-loan borrowers who are no longer able to meet their debt payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, “Many Cambodians fear losing their land more than catching the novel coronavirus because they can’t pay back their loans and the government has done little to help them.” When land collateral strips Cambodians of their homes, their ability to remain out of poverty is severely threatened. The poorly regulated microfinance industry in Cambodia risks becoming a catastrophe because of the lasting effects of the pandemic and little government action.

The Way Forward

Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, remains optimistic about the future of microfinancing in the country. In June 2020, Sen committed to dedicating about $25 million per month to help roughly 600,000 indebted and impoverished families in Cambodia. The National Bank of Cambodia has called upon lending institutions to restructure or defer loan repayments for those in economic struggles. The HRW feels more needs to be done and has provided guidelines in this regard combined with close monitoring of the situation.

– Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Cambodia
Healthcare in Cambodia has undergone numerous changes in the past century. Cambodia was possessed by France, which provided minimal and basic healthcare for Cambodian citizens. However, Cambodia received its independence from France in 1953. Soon after, the country became heavily involved in the Vietnam War until 1991 and then faced political turmoil. In 1997, the Cambodian People’s Party staged a coup and gained control of the government. This party still holds power in Cambodia and maintains political stability. These numerous government changes have impacted healthcare management and policies.

High Infant and Child Mortality

Cambodia has incredibly high rates of infant and child mortality in comparison to other countries. Mortality rates in Cambodia are among the highest worldwide, with 12% mortality for children under the age of one and 20% mortality for children aged one to five. Consequently, families are more inclined to have multiple children, as seen in other countries with high infant mortality. This decreases the overall quality of healthcare, among other issues. Between 40% and 50% of Cambodia’s population is below the age of 15. While these numbers are decreasing, they are still not at the level required to maximize the current healthcare system’s impact.

Lack of Access and Space

Another severe issue that affects Cambodian healthcare is disease and illness. Diseases arise from a lack of clean, running water as well as poor sanitation. Furthermore, much of Cambodia’s population lives in decentralized villages away from larger hospital systems and medical equipment. Lack of transportation and proximity hinder an individual’s ability to afford and access healthcare.

Moreover, the current healthcare system is not adequate to treat the numerous patients in Cambodia. Many hospitals turn away patients, citing a shortage of resources and beds. In fact, during the Stung Treng dengue fever outbreak, the Cambodian Red Cross had to assemble a makeshift hospital. The organization set up beds for patients, as the present hospitals and clinics simply could not accommodate more patients. This deficit is especially threatening in a country where access to clean water and sanitation services is not guaranteed.

Cambodia also has had many cases of malaria, as is typical of countries located in Southeast Asia. There is always a chance for spikes in malaria cases. Operating at full capacity on a normal basis makes it nearly impossible to handle spikes when they occur.

Improving Health

Emphasis on illness prevention, rather than just treatment, will help improve healthcare in Cambodia. The Cambodian government must identify resources that have been successful in improving healthcare systems and lowering mortality rates in other countries.

Additionally, the amount that the Cambodian government has been spending on healthcare has decreased from 7.2% in 2013 to 6.6% in 2019. Healthcare funding should increase, specifically in preventive medicine and care. Rather than viewing these funds as a permanent spending increase, the government should see that the investment into healthcare will eventually lead to lowered costs as overall health in Cambodia improves. The country has already made large strides over the past few decades. As more individuals gain better healthcare treatment necessary for a healthy lifestyle, the overall state of living in Cambodia will also improve.

Coordinating NGOs

An NGO that is making significant improvements in healthcare in Cambodia is the Health Action Coordinating Committee (HACC). This organization focuses on addressing healthcare issues primarily by coordinating NGO activity in Cambodia in order to create the best system of resources, information and services available.

HACC has worked on enhancing healthcare since 1995, after noticing the lack of NGO coordination in the healthcare field. Now, the nonprofit is able to connect with other organizations to focus on community empowerment, advocacy and networking to improve healthcare systems. So far, HACC Cambodia has brought together 78 nonprofit organizations and has succeeded in providing a platform for these organizations to unite and advocate for common goals through different training, symposiums and other conferences.

Healthcare in Cambodia has gone through many changes over the past few decades and it is moving in the right direction; however, there is still a long way to go. The country suffers from illnesses and diseases that result in high infant and child mortality, and the healthcare system is still not able to take care of an aging population. In order to address this, the government must make healthcare a priority and collaborate with NGOs, such as HACC, to provide better healthcare in Cambodia.

Manasi Singh
Photo: Flickr

IDPoor Card
Poverty could double in Cambodia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pulling an estimated 17.6% of the population below the poverty line. Faced with a shrinking economy, Cambodia teamed up with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF to issue IDPoor cards, which give struggling families 176,000 riels, or about $43 per month. With an IDPoor card, a family can buy dry food ingredients and products with long shelf lives to ration throughout the month.

The IDPoor card is part of the “Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households,” a government initiative designed to help strengthen social protection in Cambodia in the face of COVID-19.  Based on the country-wide poverty identification system launched in 2007, the cash transfer programme is a game-changer for Cambodians across the region.

Inside the Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households

Each household has an entitlement to $20 or $30 monthly. Families with members of vulnerable groups–such as individuals living with disabilities or HIV–are eligible for additional monetary support.

A partnership between the UNDP, Australia and the Cambodian Ministry of Planning made the cash transfer programme possible. With 1,700 tablets and the necessary software supplied by the Australian government and the UNDP, local officials interviewed and registered families who had fallen into poverty during the pandemic. In total, nearly 700,000 people in the database received funds in a cashless form, either through their phone or a card.

The Groundwork and The Future

The U.N. worked swiftly alongside the Cambodian government, developing the IDPoor cards just three months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. The groundwork for such an agile response took the form of a 2015 pilot program that supported vulnerable mothers and children before the pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 expanded the program to include low-income families across the region. UNICEF Chief of Social Policy, Erna Ribar, noted that the expansion of the 2015 pilot occurred in hopes of “[laying] the foundations for Cambodia to develop greater resilience to future economic shocks, ultimately paving the way towards a more equal society.” As the program came to fruition, the money transfer service extended its reach to even more remote populations, some of whom were handling money electronically for the first time.

In addition to the IDPoor Card, the U.N. continues to support the Cambodian government by providing medical equipment and technical support. The U.N. has also helped the country battle the pandemic by raising awareness about COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is among the greatest challenges in the modern world, and Cambodia believes that it should deal with it swiftly. Thus far, the country’s success in its money transferring service mirrors its success in controlling community spread. As Cambodians across the region continue to weather the economic consequences of COVID-19, the IDPoor card scheme remains a signal of hope.

Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr