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Elderly Poverty in CambodiaElderly poverty in Cambodia is widespread. HelpAge Cambodia reports that, in Cambodia, “one out of four older people live below the poverty line” and more than “80% of older people live in rural areas with limited infrastructure and resources.”

Introductory Statistics

Cambodia has an inadequate social security net with a very limited pension system, only extending to those who worked in the public sector. As such, many elderly people have no financial security and continue working despite health problems, often in labor-intensive jobs.

This problem is also exacerbated by the fact that the elderly literacy rate in Cambodia among people 65 and older stood at only 53.1% as of 2015, impacting the elderly population’s ability to retire reasonably well.

Of note, older persons in Cambodia experienced and survived genocide between 1975 and 1979 at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and prior to this, the Cambodian civil war in 1970. Research reveals that the genocide led to the deaths of 75% of Cambodia’s educators and 96% of university students. The loss of teachers led to a whole generation of Cambodian children missing out on education. For this reason, today, a large portion of Cambodia’s elderly are illiterate.

The coronavirus pandemic also had an overwhelming impact on elderly poverty in Cambodia. A 2021 study conducted by HelpAge aimed to uncover the impacts of the pandemic on older Cambodians. About 55% of study participants said the pandemic impacted their overall family income, citing reasons such as job losses or reduced earnings of their children and delayed or significantly reduced remittances.

Additionally, 72% of participants confirmed that they did not receive adequate food support to meet their minimum needs and 85% said they did not receive adequate support to obtain necessary medications.

The Aging Population and the Social Security Net

As with many other areas around the world, an aging population comes with disadvantages. For example, “a decline in the working-age population and a surge in health care costs.” Additionally, large numbers of elderly people depend on small numbers of working-age people to fund “higher health costs, pension benefits and other publicly funded programs” through taxes, Investopedia explains.

Aging populations are often more dependent on government support, posing a problem in Cambodia as the elderly do not receive adequate support from a social assistance program. The Cambodian government does not provide social assistance programs that specifically target the elderly, although there are social assistance programs targeting poorer households. However, these programs tend to exclude impoverished older people who do not have the correct identification or documentation.

Efforts Underway to Address Elderly Poverty in Cambodia

In July 2022, the Cambodian government launched a social security pension fund for private sector employees, which will work as a future prevention measure for elderly poverty. This follows the attempted implementation of this pension scheme in 2019, which came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of NGOs, Habitat for Humanity Cambodia partners with vulnerable groups, including older persons, to build affordable safe housing with elements “that focus on water and energy efficiency.” Through its efforts, since 2003, Habitat Cambodia “has enabled [more than] 22,000 families to build strength stability and self-reliance through shelter.”

HelpAge is an organization working toward improving the lives of older people across the world. With a specific country office in Cambodia, HelpAge has partnered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Health since 1992. Its projects involve building “age-inclusive and disaster-resilient communities in Cambodia.” Its first activities in Cambodia were associated with “eye care delivery” for elderly people.

With commitment, the government and NGOs can address elderly poverty in Cambodia through improved social security measures, ensuring a better quality of life for older people.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

tpo-cambodia-leading-mental-health-awareness-in-cambodiaOrganizations like TPO Cambodia are combatting mental health issues in Cambodia in order to create a stronger and well-off nation by raising awareness of the situation and developing community-building solutions.

Poverty in Cambodia

There are several substantial poverty issues in Cambodia needing addressing. According to Asian Development Bank (ADB), 17.8% of Cambodians are living below the poverty line. Additionally, 9.2% of the nation is living on $1.90 or less a day.

This could relate to mental health issues since Cambodia is a country with one of the highest risks of mental health-related issues. It is estimated that 40% of Cambodians suffer from mental health issues. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide rates are also higher than the worldwide average.

Poverty and Mental Health

Studies have shown that mental health issues among individuals lead to higher rates of impoverishment from struggling to remain employed or find employment. Furthermore, economic conditions are one of the foundations of mental wellness. This means that when one is living in a more deprived area you are more likely to suffer from mental health issues.

According to the BJPsych Bulletin study, 23% of men and 26% of women had mental distress potentially related to a psychological disorder in the most impoverished areas in Scotland, compared with 12% and 16% of men and women on the opposite side of the economic spectrum.

Mental Health in Children

Psychological problems often start at a young age and can have serious consequences as individuals progress through life. This starts people at a social disadvantage lacking stability to keep long-lasting relationships. Additionally, child psychological problems also lead to economic issues. Researchers found family income for those aged 50 who suffered childhood traumas decreased by 25%.

TPO Cambodia

This is an organization directly confronting the issues mental health brings by trying to identify problems Cambodians are experiencing to help them better function in their jobs, families and societies as a whole.

TPO Cambodia works to provide local community-building mental health programs that offer more effective and cost-friendly care than mental hospitals which can lead to dehumanizing patients.

The ultimate goals of their programs are to educate Cambodians on mental health issues and become more aware of previously unseen issues in their own lives. Healing scars and social conflict are also important so that Cambodian citizens feel more invigorated and active to be able to actively participate in society.

Since its establishment in 1995, more than 200,000 Cambodians received mental health care and support.

Mental health is a serious issue in the world today. Traumas often start at young ages and can have serious consequences on the economic and societal well beings of citizens. However, with organizations such as TPO Cambodia tackling this issue, more and more are becoming aware of mental health and its effects and are receiving treatment.

Alex Havardansky
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