An NPR piece from May highlighted Cambodia’s long-standing debt to the United States. It comes to approximately $500 million. The piece also included a critical perspective on the U.S. insistence for reimbursement. Many are wondering how to help people in Cambodia when this debt is so high.
But with U.S. disbursements for the country reaching over $93 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2015 (according to Foreign Aid Explorer), who needs it more?
USAID classifies the nation as lower-middle income, and as the NPR piece noted, its debt originated as “a food loan taken out during the Vietnam War.”
One of the most important questions, then, is how much Cambodia should repay the United States? For some, it may simply be a question of whether the aid should even be repaid at all.
Only two percent of the aid in Fiscal Year 2015 qualified for the “military” category, while the rest fell under the “economic” section. The top sectors for this aid involved population policies and reproductive health, basic health and general environmental protection.
If the country cannot repay the debt back now—and if it is not projected to have the financial capacity in the future—should it be forgiven?
Or should those funds instead be systematically withheld by the United States? Is that morally wrong, as the country’s income likely makes it dependent on this aid for basic sustenance?
For an individual wondering how to help people in Cambodia, one can begin by lobbying for Senate Resolution 157—which involves Cambodia and other countries in Southeast Asia.
GovTrack highlights that this is “in the first stage of the legislative process” after appearing in May of this year. The website highlighted that the resolution “will typically be considered by committee next before it is possibly sent on to the House or Senate as a whole.”
Among other initiatives—which include addressing issues such as trafficking and maritime stability—the resolution “reaffirms… the enhancement of U.S.-ASEAN economic engagement.”
Furthermore, urging congressional leaders to favor forgiving the debt can highlight how difficult it may be for Cambodia to fully repay the funds. Contacting these leaders can include easy methods such as phone calls, letters and social media.
Including the outcome of strong economic ties with Cambodia—like its potential to become a viable trading partner—can be used when reaching out to these leaders. This reasoning relies on the notion that Cambodia may be able to repay if given the chance to grow economically.
While understanding how to help people in Cambodia often seems abstract and daunting, it is possible. The mobilization of people to fulfill small tasks like contacting their leaders can make a massive difference for the nation in the long run.
– Maleeha Syed