The UN Development Programme’s regional chief called Cambodia’s economy one of the “best performing” developing countries in the region and praised the government’s commitment to poverty reduction Saturday, though observers noted that economic gains have not translated into better living conditions for most of the country’s poor.
With an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 6.7 percent between 1993 and 2002, Cambodia is “certainly one of the best performing [least developed countries] in the region and possibly the world,” said Hafiz Pasha, Asia and Pacific regional bureau director for the UNDP.
However, “I don’t think you see that link yet” between growth and poverty reduction, he said.
Despite a recently released UNDP report that noted reduced per capita spending, rising infant mortality and a growing gap between rich and poor over the past decade, the country’s quality of life indicators are “moving up—perhaps not moving up as fast as they might,” Pasha said.
Public spending is among the lowest in the region, he said. In the health sector particularly, “under-utilization” of funds has hampered some public health efforts, an observation echoed Sunday by World Health Organization Country Representative Jim Tulloch. “There hasn’t been any real progress in child mortality reduction in the last decade,” he said.
The government has made infrastructure gains like bridges and roads, with little improvement in health or education, said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
“I think for the future, the government should focus more on the health and well being of the people,” she said Sunday.