Cambodia ranks 140th out of 174 countries in the UN Development Program’s Human Development Index for 1998—a slight improvement compared to last year’s position of 153rd.
The ranking, which reflects life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted income, was released on Wednesday as part of the Human Development Report 1998. Cambodia’s rise in the index should not be given too much attention, UNDP officials said, since last year’s figures may not have been as accurate as the ones for 1998.
“The 1997 report used figures, particularly with regard to literacy rates, which were not as solid,” said Jean-Claude Rogivue, a senior UNDP official, in a press conference on Wednesday. “It doesn’t mean that the situation has changed that dramatically.”
Life expectancy in Cambodia is 52.9 years, nearly 10 percent lower than the global average, while the adult literacy rate is at 65 percent. Forty-seven percent of Cambodians have access to health services, 64 percent to safe water, and 40 percent of children are malnourished.
As in 1997, Cambodia is last among Southeast Asian nations in the index, trailing Laos, which takes the 136th position. The Human Poverty Index-2, which measures poverty in 77 developing countries, also ranks Cambodia last among Southeast Asian nations—in 52nd place overall.
Looking at the global picture, the report notes the consumption gap between rich and poor countries has again widened.
“The richest 20 percent of the world’s population consume 16 times more than the poorest 20 percent,” Rogivue said. “While we are seeing a surge in consumption, over 1 billion people are unable to meet their most basic needs.”
Rogivue said investment in “education and human resources” would help Cambodia to improve its situation.
At a June 1997 press conference about last year’s report, a UNDP representative made a similar recommendation, calling on the government to shift budget priorities from the military to health and education.