In a new report released by the UN Development Program last week, Cambodia’s rise in human development–defined as income, life expectancy and years of schooling–was the fastest in Asia in the past two decades, with the country now ranking 124 out of 169 countries in this year’s Human Development Index.
Cambodia was placed in the next-to-last quintile–labeled “medium developed countries” by UNDP–below neighbors Vietnam and Laos, ranked 113 and 122 respectively, but above other Asian nations such as Pakistan (125) and Bangladesh (129).
Out of a potential maximum development index score of 1, Cambodia scored 0.494, with a GDP per capita of $1,868, a life expectancy of 62.2 years and 9.8 years of education expected for school-going children, while the adult population had an average of 5.8 years of schooling, the report said.
Norway had the highest level of development in the index with a score of 0.938, while Zimbabwe ranked last with an index score of 0.140.
Rankings in this year’s report could not be compared to previous development reports due to changes in research methods, UNDP said in a news release. Using the new methods on past data, Cambodia went up one place since 2005.
However, UNDP said that Cambodia and Bangladesh had seen the fastest increases in development since 1990 out of all Asian countries.
When Cambodia’s score was adjusted for levels of inequality in the distribution of health, education and income among its citizens, it lost 28 percent of its development index score, according to the report, somewhat more than the East Asian regional average of 21.2 percent.
Council of Ministers’ spokesman Phay Siphan said the government had its own indicators for defining development progress and that he could offer little comment on Cambodia’s development ranking.
Mr Siphan said however, that Cambodia’s rise in the UNDP’s development index was in accordance with government’s success in developing the country. “We feel Cambodia developed a lot,” he added.
Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said Cambodia’s placement and rise in the development ranking was “reasonable, because it has been improving in social and economic development.”
Ny Boret, an evaluation and monitoring officer at the National Committee for Sub-national Democratic Development, said rapidly increasing income levels had been a major factor in Cambodia’s rise in the development rankings.
During the past decade, he said, “Cambodia is number seven in terms of speed of economic growth in the world.”
The UNDP report’s new Multidimensional Poverty Index also redefines poverty according to the levels at which households are deprived from services in health, schooling, or household amenities. Under this definition, UNDP calculates that 52 percent of Cambodians live in poverty.
However, Mr Boret, who contributed to the UNDP Human Development Report for Cambodia, said the report’s new poverty data on Cambodia were outdated as the report used data from 2005. “Compared with five years ago the difference is a lot,” he said.
The World Bank currently estimates that about 27 percent of Cambodians live below the poverty line, which they peg at $1.25 per day per person.