Homelessness in CambodiaCambodia is a developing country in Southeast Asia. With a population of more than 16 million, more than one-fourth of the country lives in poverty. Many live just above the poverty line of $1.25 per day and at least 10 million Cambodians are in need of decent housing. Here are four facts about housing and homelessness in Cambodia.

4 Facts About Housing and Homelessness in Cambodia

  1. As aforementioned, 10 million Cambodians lack adequate housing. Additionally, about two million houses need necessary improvement to meet the minimum quality standards.
  2. Cambodia has a large urban population. Around 21.2% of Cambodians live in cities. In the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, one in five people live in the slums and lack access to basic services, according to Habitat for Humanity.
  3. About 80% of Cambodia’s population lives in rural housing. Traditional Khmer rural homes are wooden and built on large stilts raised above the ground. This way, the water from the monsoons that frequent the country does not reach and damage the main part of the houses.
  4. A survey by the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics, Columbia University in New York and Friends International cited in a 2017 VOA News story found that in Cambodia’s seven biggest urban centers about 2,700 young people were homeless with the numbers climbing as a result of “higher unemployment and migration to the cities from rural [areas].”

Habitat for Humanity

Since 2003, Habitat for Humanity has been working in Cambodia to “break the cycle of poverty through safe, durable, affordable housing solutions.” To date, Habitat Cambodia has helped provide more than 22,000 families with shelter. The organization works with both international and local NGOs, local and national authorities and other groups to tackle the homelessness situation in Cambodia.

The organization’s innovative approach includes market development, advocacy for secure land tenure and collaborating with other NGOs and community-based organizations in order to create housing solutions for the poor in Cambodia. Habitat for Humanity has also been working in three of Cambodia’s biggest cities — Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang — to provide housing solutions and help secure land for the homeless and other in-need groups including those living with disabilities, orphans and those affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2018, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that these efforts reached 73,000 children and adults.

In 2014, Cambodia adopted a National Housing Policy to improve access to housing. However, according to Habitat for Humanity, this policy has not yet reached low-income and middle-income families. To combat this, Habitat Cambodia is advocating for “effective implementation of the National Housing Policy” in order to provide access to housing for the growing number of Cambodians in urban areas.

 Though housing shortages and homelessness in Cambodia are still serious and ongoing issues, organizations like Habitat for Humanity are helping combat the issue — one habitat at a time.

– Emma Benson
Photo: Flickr

Fighting for Women's Rights in Cambodia
While Cambodia is classified as a democratic nation, the country still struggles to combat human rights violations and gender inequality. The UN has pressured the Cambodian government to eliminate corruption, especially regarding women’s rights and sex trafficking. Government officials have taken steps to move forward in this process, but human rights violations have been far from eradicated. The fight for women’s rights in Cambodia is particularly difficult and securing gender equality faces substantial barriers.

While women may have the same rights as men under the law, the implementation of those rights is entirely inadequate. Culturally, many Cambodians view women as secondary human beings, as shown by the famous saying, “men are gold; women are cloth.” This cultural norm discourages women from being public participants in economic and political processes.

Cambodian women face significant challenges in pursuing jobs outside the home. Most of the opportunities readily available to them are in dangerous or inconsistent conditions, and women are also paid significantly less than men. In high-profit markets, men comprise almost all leadership positions.

Education for women in Cambodia can also be tricky, as families are not legally required to send their children to school, and if they do not have much money the boys will typically receive an education first. Child marriage also creates problems for young girls getting an education, as they are incredibly unlikely to return to school after becoming a bride.

The imbalance of social power between men and women can quickly turn into something not only unfair, but dangerous. Violence against women is common in Cambodia, and 20 percent of women over 15 have encountered some form of physical abuse from a man. Acts of sexual violence, including rape, also plagues Cambodia. The government does a terrible job of holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable, making equal rights for women in Cambodia less tangible.

Sex trafficking, often a result of living in deep poverty, is a huge problem in Cambodia. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, and many are sold by members of their own family. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is the home base of many sex trafficking rings.

While women’s rights in Cambodia are not ideal, many organizations are working towards gender equality. The government has adopted several policies that they hope will lead to a crackdown on sex trafficking. Action Aid – an organization that works to promote the lives of the oppressed – has a plan to increase female participation in politics and elevate the quality of women’s rights in Cambodia by 2018.

Women in Cambodia are living in harsh conditions and have yet to achieve gender equality in public or private spheres. While the struggle for equal rights is far from over, the spirit of change is working in the country. Through the efforts of the government and other organizations such as Action Aid, support for women’s rights in Cambodia should increase, and with it, gender equality should start to improve.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Google

cambodian toilet crisis
A Southeast Asian organization has used simple economics to create an effective solution to the Cambodian toilet crisis.

The Ministry of Rural Development reports that 61.4 percent of rural Cambodian households lack toilets. Open defecation has been proven to cause diarrhea, malnutrition, stunted growth and negative impacts on a child’s cognitive development.

However, according to a water and sanitation report published by The World Bank, more than half of the Cambodian households that lack a latrine could, in actuality, afford one. With current awareness and subsidy campaigns, latrine coverage has been increasing by only 1.3 percent per year, which means it could take more than 60 years for Cambodia to be “Open Defecation Free.”

WaterSHED is a Phnom Penh-based organization, founded in 2010. This humanitarian team works on water and sanitation marketing in Southeast Asia. The founders of this agency discovered that building toilets in Cambodia was outlandishly expensive. The price to build and assemble a toilet was between $250 and $400, but with Cambodia’s GDP per capita at around $950, having a toilet has been traditionally reserved for the wealthy.

Using a supply and demand framework, WaterSHED toilet suppliers lower their prices, increase their volume and offer a complete package including toilet installation for only $45. Families can pay for these latrines with microfinance loans targeted only at the very poor.

With this new method WaterSHED has reported the sale of 75,000 toilets in 59 of Cambodia’s 171 districts. This rate of toilet installation increases the annual coverage rate up to 7 percent.

The impact of WaterSHED’s advocacy has seen visible results. IRIN, a humanitarian news agency affiliated with the U.N., interviewed citizens in the Kompong Speu Province. In this village of 160 families, around 100 have recently installed a new toilet. The families have already seen the health benefits of their new latrines, including less frequent fever and diarrhea.

The World Bank argues that making the elimination of open defecation a top priority for policy makers in Cambodia is crucial to the productivity of the next generation. With innovative programs like those implemented by WaterSHED, the future looks brighter for the youth of Cambodia.

— Grace Flaherty

Sources: IRIN News, World Bank
Photo: Flickr