Cambodia has ranked 129th out of 177 countries in the UN Development Program’s latest Human Development Report, which takes into account life expectancy, education levels and standards of living.
Cambodia improved slightly in the rankings of this year’s annual report, moving up one position. But it still ranks only one place higher than military-ruled Burma in the report, which was released earlier this week.
Laos ranked 133rd, Vietnam ranked 109th and Thailand came in 74th. The highest ranking nation in Southeast Asia is Singapore at 25. At the top of the list is Norway, followed closely by Iceland and Australia, while the African nation of Niger came in last.
The report states that it is not a comprehensive measure of human development, as it does not include indicators like respect for human rights or political freedom. And although newly released, the Cambodia data in the report was compiled in 2004.
Cambodia ranked 134th out of 177 countries for life expectancy at birth, which is a mere 56.5 years. In the number one ranked nation for this category, Japan, people are expected to live an average of 82.2 years.
At 73.6 percent, Cambodia’s adult literacy rate was ranked 92nd out of 128 countries. With 60.2 percent of school age children enrolled in classes, Cambodia came 129th out of 172 nations.
The standard of living in Cambodia, as measured by GDP per capita, did improve significantly between this and last year’s report. According to the 2005 report, GDP per capita was $2,078 in 2003 but jumped 16 percent to $2,423 in the 2006 report.
The increase in GDP per capita brought a six place jump in the rankings, but Cambodia still comes in at only 122nd out of 172 countries.
Cambodia’s worst showing was its rank for people without access to an improved water source. At 59 percent, Cambodia has only two developing nations-Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia-ranked below it.
Rodney Hatfield, country representative for the UN Children’s Fund, said that mismanagement of Cambodia’s water resources has taken a serious toll, especially on children.
“We still have probably around 8,000 children every year who die due to lack of safe water and sanitation,” he said.
But Hatfield cast doubt on whether some of the figures in the UN report were accurate.
Even taking into account that the data used is supposedly from 2004, one figure given-that 45 percent of Cambodian children aged five and under were underweight-was based on very out of date information, he said.
The latest demographic information showed that the number of underweight children has dropped to 35 percent, and the number used in the report is actually six years old, Hatfield said.
Hatfield also said he thought the adult literacy rate of 73.6 percent was too high.
Today, less than half of children in Cambodia graduate from primary school, he said. As a result, he questioned whether so many adults could be literate.
“I would officially have to say that the [adult literacy rate] number for Cambodia is suspect,” he said.
UNDP communications officer Margaret Lamb would not say whether the UNDP believes all the information in the report is accurate.
But she did point out pages in the report which state that “significant inconsistencies” can arise given the ways that national and international data collection agencies gather and manipulate data.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was not surprised that Cambodia was ranked so poorly.
“We have one report after another that makes Cambodia look bad. Either the whole world is crazy or there is a problem with Cambodia,” he said. He added that Cambodia’s circumstances may have improved since the data was compiled in 2004, but not significantly.
“The rich are getting richer while the poor are being denied basic needs,” he said.
Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said that he could not comment on the veracity of the report’s health-related statistics until the release of the 2005 Cambodia Demographic Health Survey-which is due later this year.
Nath Bun Roeun, undersecretary of state at the Education Ministry, declined comment on the report. Rural Development Minister Lu Laysreng said he was too busy to comment on Cambodia’s ranking, while government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment.