The government and the UN Development Program unveiled on Thursday the country’s first human development report since 2001, the result of a joint effort containing analysis of recent years’ health and education data as well as rising trends in landlessness and income inequality.
While noting broad-based progress, the 2007 report nonetheless stresses longstanding problems, such as the country’s “alarmingly high” maternal mortality rate of 472 per 100,000 live births, and primary school attendance that is “among the lowest in Southeast Asia.”
Speaking at Thursday’s launch ceremony, UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner called for investments in job training, for reducing the cost of doing business and spending any future oil revenues on rural infrastructure.
However his first priority remains the “fair and effective governance of land,” he said.
According to the report, during a five-year period ending in 2004, the share of land owned by Cambodia’s poorest 40 percent dropped from 8.4 to 5.4 percent while the share owned by the richest 20 percent grew from 59 to 70 percent.
“[L]and inequality and landlessness is an undeniable and growing problem. It impoverishes farming communities and increases inequality and conflict,” the report said.
After the ceremony, Planning Minister Chhay Than said his ministry had decided in 2002 that development reports, which came out annually from 1997 to 2001, would be issued periodically due to a heavier workload.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said that Cambodia’s land crisis was its most severe human rights problem, encompassing other issues such as corruption and environmental destruction.
“I see that there is a lot of attention on how to develop our economy, how to have economic growth, but the problem is not that,” he said. “It is the political will of the government to tackle the inequality in economic growth.”
The launch ceremony also served as something of a farewell ceremony for Gardner, who leaves Cambodia on Tuesday to take up a post as deputy director of the UNDP’s bureau for development policy in New York.
Prime Minister Hun Sen offered warm praise to Gardner, calling him a committed worker and “an optimist.”
“I respect him as a real, valued and effective partner after three and a half years,” Hun Sen said.
Gardner, who arrived in Cambodia in April 2004, said the country had grown in self-reliance during his tenure.
“One of the most moving moments was when Cambodia sent off 135 peacekeepers on a UN mission to the Sudan,” he said of a 2006 RCAF demining detachment. “I still get goose bumps.”
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)