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Disability and Poverty in Cambodia
Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a country with a troubled recent history. Just 50 years ago this small nation experienced a genocide estimated to have killed a quarter of its population. Neither the country nor its people emerged unscathed. Cambodia’s high poverty rate, poor healthcare infrastructure and landmine-laden countryside have spelled significant consequences for Cambodia’s disabled population. In order to better understand this issue, it’s essential to examine the intersection of disability and poverty in Cambodia.

Disability and Poverty in Cambodia

In general, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. There are various reasons for this, the most significant a decreased earning capacity for this community. Another reason is the higher costs associated with achieving the same standard of living as non-disabled persons. In addition, the former problem is largely due to unequal access to education and discriminatory hiring practices. For example, practices like disability-specific expenses, medication and assistive devices.

In Cambodia, the rate of poverty among households with at least one disabled member is 18%. However, this number doesn’t account for the additional costs associated with disability. The incorporation of which experts say raises the rate to 34%. This is more than double the national rate of 13.5%. Furthermore, it’s estimated that only 44% of children with disabilities have completed primary school in Cambodia, compared to 73% of their non-disabled counterparts. This gap only widens as the level of education increases. Moreover, in 2010, the Cambodian government mandated that the workforce of public institutions should include 2% of disabled persons by 2013. However, even as late as 2016, this figure had only reached 1.3%.

Prevalence of Disability in Cambodia

Population surveys in Cambodia over the past decade have estimated the percent of disabled persons in the country to range from 2% to 9.5%. This can be compared with the rate of disability of the world at large, which the World Health Organization estimates to be 15%. Moreover, the variance in the percentages for Cambodia is largely due to differences in how disability is defined for census and data-gathering purposes. In general, it is difficult to acquire accurate population data in developing countries. Therefore, the figures that emerge are the best estimate. Data on disability rates among Cambodian children are somewhat more reliable. A study by UNICEF found that approximately 10% of children in the country have some form of disability, with speech and cognitive impairments being among the most common.

Factors Contributing to Prevalence

The conditions created by poverty and accidental landmine explosions are some of the most significant factors contributing to Cambodia’s disability rate. Poverty can be as much a determining factor of disability as a repercussion of it. Studies by the World Health Organization shows a strong relationship between malnutrition – a common consequence of poverty – and both disability and developmental delays. Given that one in three children in Cambodia is malnourished, the country’s high rate of childhood disability is unfortunately unsurprising. Furthermore, Cambodia has made truly remarkable strides in clearing the landmines that once littered its countryside. However, accidental detonations of these buried explosives have resulted in over 45,000 injuries and amputations in the years following 1980. Consequently, Cambodia has the highest number of amputees per capita in the world.

Obstacles to Improvement

Many of these obstacles seem to fall under one of two categories: physical infrastructure and policy enforcement. Even in urban centers, there are few physical accommodations for disabled people. Cambodia doesn’t provide accessibility measures for its most vulnerable citizens, from wheelchair ramps to auditory crosswalk signals. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, for example, there are reportedly only 15 public restrooms that are disability-friendly. Additionally, public transportation is difficult to use – if not actively dangerous – for disabled Cambodians. This is due to limited adherence to traffic laws and the poor state of public roads.

Interestingly, a lack of legislation concerning the rights of disabled Cambodians isn’t among the country’s problems. The government of Cambodia has put out numerous mandates and decrees that help citizens with disabilities. This covers everything from the monthly pension that citizens with disabilities are due, to penalties for businesses that don’t hire enough disabled individuals. The problem is that these laws go largely unenforced. A study found that only 4% of disabled Cambodians received their government benefits. In addition, employees of the government agencies meant to enforce certain regulations don’t even know how to file a claim against violators.

Looking to the Future

Although there’s certainly much progress to be made, a number of NGOs and non-profits work to solve the issue of disability and poverty in Cambodia. The NGOs and non-profits are working to better the living standards and lives of Cambodians with disabilities. One, in particular, doing extraordinary work is the Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living (PPCIL).

In 2009, Cambodians with disabilities founded this NGO. This organization seeks to empower people with severe disabilities. In addition, PPCIL wants to empower people with disabilities to live independently by providing basic education and vocational training. It also assists in identifying housing units and employment opportunities with access for the disabled. The PPCIL promotes the rights of disabled Cambodians. In addition, the NGO works to provide them with the equipment, training and personal assistance they need to live independently and with dignity. The center’s most recent project is collecting donated masks and other protective-wear for members of its community in response to COVID-19.

The Cambodian government recently released a National Disability Strategic Plan for 2019-2023. This plan intends to further address such issues as those covered in this article. This plan will improve livelihoods for Cambodia’s disabled community.

Gennaveve Brizendine
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Cambodia
Cambodia has made phenomenal progress against poverty in the past few decades. The country surpassed the Millennium Development Goals and expanded their road system, irrigation and agriculture market. The following are the top 10 facts about poverty in Cambodia.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Around 32 percent of children under 5 in Cambodia are stunted. Despite economic growth, Cambodia still struggles with healthcare and education. Decreasing nutritional deficiency in children is essential to mitigating child stunting.
  2. 12.3 million people, or around 70 percent of the population in Cambodia, do not have access to a piped water supply. Access to clean drinking water is crucial to alleviate disease in impoverished communities. Limiting the spread of disease is an important aspect of decreasing poverty in Cambodia.
  3. As of 2015, the life expectancy rate in Cambodia was reported at 68.4 years. This rate is significantly influenced by poverty. Lack of sanitation, education and healthcare are all symptoms of poverty that contribute to limited life expectancy.
  4. Approximately 90 percent of Cambodia’s impoverished population lives in rural areas. Much of them depend upon agriculture for their means of survival. This is good while crop prices are doing well, but these communities are also vulnerable to changes in weather and fluctuating crop yields.
  5. Two-thirds of the households in Cambodia experience seasonal food shortages every year. This is one example of a consequence of living in a rural area that depends on living off the land. Food supply can change with the seasons, leaving it as an unreliable source of sustenance.
  6. A history of political instability contributes to poverty in Cambodia. In the 1970’s, a Marxist leader named Pol Pot began the Khmer Rouge regime that ultimately led to the death of 2 million people in Cambodia. Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to be an agrarian country that did not depend on anything modern. As a result, Cambodia was surpassed by other countries in medical and technological advancements.
  7. There is limited access to quality healthcare, especially in rural areas. Cambodia is a mountainous region, and people living in rural communities are often isolated and have to travel a long way to get to a clinic. While the geography cannot be changed, expanding and opening more clinics would help to reach more people. Also, eliminating fees for services and supplies would help those who are not fortunate enough to afford them on their own, especially considering that healthcare in Cambodia is supposed to be free.
  8. The poverty rate has decreased from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 13.5 percent in 2014. This massive decrease was largely driven by growth in Cambodia’s rice market. Rising prices for rice and a better transportation system for the product has created a more prosperous economy for rural dwellers.
  9. Habitat for Humanity is working to rebuild slums in urban Cambodia. HFH is focusing on building durable homes with access to water and sanitation to replace the fragile shacks in which many impoverished Cambodians are living. They are also training families in HIV/AIDS prevention and financial literacy.
  10. The maternal mortality rate has decreased considerably in recent decades. In 2005, the ratio per 1,000 births was 472. In 2014, it had decreased to 170. Additionally, the under-five mortality rate declined from 83 per 1,000 in 2005 to 35 in 2014.

Cambodia has made great strides since the start of the century in working to alleviate poverty and recover from the Khmer Rouge regime. Some of these top 10 facts about poverty in Cambodia still paint a more negative picture, but others provide hope for the future. If the good fortune that has befallen the agriculture industry continues and more awareness can be raised on the conditions that need improvement in Cambodia, one can expect to continue to see growth in the coming years.

– Amelia Merchant

Photo: Flickr

Rural Poverty in Cambodia
Agrarian farmers, women, internally displaced persons and those in poor fishing communities account for 4.8 million impoverished Cambodian individuals, while 90 percent of this demographic live in rural areas. Poverty in Cambodia is severe in rural regions.

Those living in rural poverty in Cambodia are isolated and live in villages far from health services and roads, contributing to their limited access to education, health care and employment.

The Khmer Rouge, a radical communist group, took power in Cambodia during 1975 and practices instilled by their reign began to facilitate rural poverty in Cambodia. After forcing citizens out of cities and into the countryside, they dismantled financial institutions, education infrastructures and foreign cultural influences.

Rural Poverty in Cambodia

They aimed to reform Cambodia into a rural nation until 1979 after Vietnamese troops invaded the country to capture Khmer Rouge leader, Phnom Penh. However, their representation of Cambodia was continued through 1990 when the United Nations recognized them as the only authentic representation of Cambodians in the General Assembly.

Urban areas experienced a decline in poverty of around 10 percent in one decade. However, resolving rural poverty in Cambodia is vital to further development as agricultural employment accounts for 59 percent of the total labor force nationwide.

The Asian Development Bank’s analysis of rural poverty in Cambodia cites five main foundations for economic growth in remote areas: Growth in land under production, growth in the rural labor force, modest gains in agricultural productivity main in non-rice crops, public and private investment in agriculture in rural infrastructure and substantial investments in social infrastructure such as health, education and sanitation.

According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, 85 percent of people living in poverty reside in rural locations. The prevalence of rural poverty among the world’s poor is so critical that the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development asserts that alleviating poverty in these areas should be the United Nation’s number one Millennium Development Goal.

The International Fund for Agriculture is currently conducting five programs to alleviate rural poverty in Cambodia focusing on developing more efficient agrarian productivity that directly benefits 425,300 households.

Programs support investments in agriculture and development in remote villages, while also accounting for sensitivities for women to ease gendered inequalities.

USAID is also conducting programs to develop governing stability, improving healthcare, increasing accessibility to education for individuals in remote areas and improving food security.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Improving Water Quality in Cambodia for Health and Economical Benefits

Water quality in Cambodia is a national problem. As of 2014, UNICEF reported that 6.3 million out of 14.9 million Cambodians, nearly half of the population, lacked access to clean drinking water.

Rural regions often struggle to address standing water and runoff as a result of inadequate infrastructure, particularly during the May to November monsoon season.

In some villages, rain water is collected and stored in cement structures. In the absence of expensive water treatment systems, the stored water may harbor parasites.

Heavy rain may also leave standing water, which contributes to the proliferation of pests like snakes and mosquitoes. Rain and standing water also become a problem when trash and refuse are left outside of buildings, where they can contaminate the water that drains into agricultural fields or later joins groundwater.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in the Asia-Pacific region where Cambodia is located, nearly 80 percent of waste water is untreated when it is released.

The issue of standing water and untreated waste water explains why outbreaks of waterborne diseases follow precipitation events – an issue of huge concern, in a country with a six-month rainy season. Indeed, the ABD says, the Asia-Pacific region is a “global hot spot for water insecurity.”

Water quality in Cambodia urgently needs to be addressed. The second leading cause of death for children under five years of age is diarrhea, which is a common result of waterborne illness. Even so, 40 percent of primary schools and 35 percent of clinics in Cambodia lack clean water.

Economic development is also dependent on water quality. Rana Flowers, Cambodia’s UNICEF representative, explains that “Attention to rural water supply, sanitation, and hygiene will unquestionably deliver results — less child deaths, better learning at school, less disease, more productive workers, less health costs for the people and the system.”

Further, the ADB expects water demands in the Asia-Pacific region to increase 55 percent by the year 2050, for domestic needs and as a result of the growth in manufacturing and thermal electricity generation. To complicate matters further, climate change is likely to contribute to problems of water scarcity and extreme weather. Water treatment plans that enable the safe reuse of water will be important for addressing water scarcity while protecting public health.

Even so, water quality in Cambodia has improved in recent years. UNICEF reports that around 21,000 new wells have been constructed in Cambodia since 1983, and as a result, as many as 420,000 families now benefit from clean water.

In addition, UNICEF works with the government to educate communities on the risks of contaminants like arsenic, to test wells for these contaminants, and to establish safer sources of water. As sanitation improves, more students, especially girls, are able to attend school.

As new water treatment infrastructure is put into place and older systems are updated in Cambodia and elsewhere, information regarding the efficacy of different sanitation technologies against dangerous pathogens will be vital.

The Global Water Pathogen Project aims to provide this information via online, open-access articles in “a developing platform to support global exposure assessments, risk assessments, and enable evaluation of sanitation technologies for achieving health-based targets.” Through this work, the organization contributes to goals set in place by UNESCO, the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation.

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr