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Infrastructure in Cambodia: Building the Future

Infrastructure in Cambodia
Infrastructure relies on quality, sustainability and cost to determine project investment and execution. Infrastructure in Cambodia, a nation geographically located in Southeast Asia, has drastically advanced over the last few decades, but its overall success and development still lag behind its neighbors. Not without reason, Cambodia infrastructure falls below standard as a result of its nasty civil war, consequently coinciding with the conflict in Vietnam.

A Civil War Disruption

In the 1960s and 1970s, Cambodia was rife with disturbance and disorder. Not only had civil war erupted, but the nation also lurched into the conflict in Vietnam. A small country, the wrath of the communist organization Khmer Rouge effortlessly spread like wildfire. Additionally, civil war wreaked havoc at all ends of Cambodia.

Neighbors to the Vietnam War, Cambodia experienced upwards of 700,000 Cambodian deaths in the American effort to protect themselves from Vietnam.

By 1975, Khmer Rouge took reign in Cambodia, which was headed by a communist by the name of Pol Pot. Believing intellectuals would threaten the communist nation he envisioned, all hospitals, colleges and factories were shut down, and all lawyers, doctors and teachers were either killed or forcibly evacuated from their country.

The freedoms and rights of remaining laborers were rendered nonexistent for the mere fact that the individual intellectual’s aptitude to question authority and create rebellion could pose threat. A paranoid Pol Pot used genocide and exodus to abolish any and all uncertainty.

Existing Infrastructure in Cambodia

There is a limited train network in modern day Cambodia. Railways connecting the rural to the urban, as well as Cambodia to its neighbors, are absent. The country boasts 22,227 miles of highways, of which only 11.6 percent are paved. Moreover, much of the population, especially in rural areas, have no access to electricity, and Internet access in Cambodia is extremely expensive relative to local income levels.

On a brighter note, the network of roads in Cambodia is improving as the country is in the midst of hyper-focusing on road construction. The goal remains to connect the outside with the in, the rural with the urban.

Currently, stretches of road outside the capital city of Phnom Penh are being financed by both the national government and foreign aid. Yet, the quality and sustainability of projects get called into question when external aid is involved. For instance, maintenance of such infrastructure is challenging with limited resources, ultimately leading to deterioration after just a couple of years.

Japan and China Chime In

In efforts to uplift Asian neighbors, Japan and China seem to be some of Cambodia’s largest and most involved foreign aid donors and contributors. Leaders amongst these nations seemingly agree on an advanced push for “quality infrastructure” investment in Asia.

Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a $110 billion injection into Asian infrastructure funding over five years. However, according to VOA News, “in order for Cambodia to retain its growth momentum, which over the past decade has seen the economy grow at an average of 7 percent annually, infrastructure investment will need to be somewhere between $12 billion and $16 billion between 2013 and 2022.”

Even if infrastructure development simply begins at road construction, representatives at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Cambodia state that such an improvement will link Cambodia to its neighboring countries, ultimately advancing trade and boosting foreign investment.

In terms of China, they provide an even more immediate fix for infrastructure than can Japan, but the quality is often called into question.

According to VOA News, director of the Center for Policy Studies in Cambodia, Chan Sophal, states that some donors “require a long procedure before we can get a loan and develop the infrastructure, so maybe there is a time/cost [decision] in there. But for other donors, like China, we get the funds quickly and can do it quickly, but there could be an issue with cost and quality.”

Australia, too?

Yes, Australia’s investments in infrastructure in Cambodia are committed to constructing, improving and maintaining rural roads as well as infrastructure damaged in recent natural disasters.

Australia has set precedent to infrastructure projects. Its vision for 2015-2020 includes $45.4 million and collaboration with companies to help connect households and families to resources, services, amenities and utilities.

Its vision for 2014-2020 includes $22.6 million and the Rural Roads Improvement Project Phase II. Co-financed by the Asian Development Bank, the Cambodian government, Korea, France, the Nordic Development Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund, this lofty project will guarantee rehabilitated roads to be climate-resilient and provide 365-day access to schools, hospitals and markets.

Nationwide Improvements

Not only will improved roads increase commuter mobility, but the enhanced quality is predicted to reduce the crash rate by 20 percent. Moreover, labor for improving such infrastructure in Cambodia promises to allocate at least 20 percent of unskilled jobs to women.

According to The Cambodia Daily, secretary-general for the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Sok Chenda, believes that Cambodia does not simply “want growth around Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville…We need to improve rural infrastructure too to create balanced development.”

Such a perspective is both necessary and promising, and the world waits with bated breath to see how Cambodia continues to improve.

– Mary Grace Miller
Photo: Unsplash