The government and international donors are developing a comprehensive social support system for the poor, which could start as soon as next year, government officials and representatives of development agencies said Tuesday.
“All donors think this is important. There is a lot of donor interest,” said World Bank poverty specialist Tim Conway.
Donor funding for the system would depend on the scale and type of social support chosen, but donors are likely to step in to support it, Conway said, adding that development agencies currently fund a substantial amount of the cost of existing social programs.
The government will decide on the type and scope of social support in early December, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Interior Ngy Chanpal said at a meeting of donors and government agencies at the ministry Monday.
World Food Program Country Representative Jean-Pierre de Margerie said that following soaring food and fuel prices in 2008 and the global economic slowdown, donors and government agreed that a social safety net was important and needs to be started as soon as possible, possibly as early as December.
The World Bank and the government’s Council for Agriculture and Rural Development are developing a proposal for the system and suggested conditional cash support programs as a possible nationwide program during a joint presentation Monday.
These programs try to prevent poor families from pulling their children out of school or cutting back on nutrition and healthcare when faced with increasing poverty. Poor households receive money on conditions such that they make their children attend school and regular health clinic visits, the World Bank and CARD said.
Conway said conditional cash support has been applied in many countries and has been found to work well. “We think because it has not been tried here it could be an interesting option,” he said, along with other programs such as food for work.
The support system entails a national system for identifying poor households and would also integrate existing social projects such as school-feeding programs or a health equity fund that provides free healthcare to the poor, he added.
For a social services system government would also need to improve identification of poor households and poor areas and increase social spending—which at 3.1 percent of GDP is below the regional average, according to World Bank and CARD.
Households’ abilities to cope with the current crisis had diminished because of the growing number of landless or land-poor people and much reduced access to free natural resources, such as forests and lakes for their livelihoods, the World Bank and CARD said.
A third of all Cambodians live below the poverty line and the worsening in child health and malnutrition found by the recently released Cambodian Anthropometrics Survey 2008, showed the impact of the crisis, they said.
Traditional solidarity practices, such as sharing funeral costs and labor in rural communities, may also be less strong because of growing inequalities and migration, Conway said, adding that knowledge on this was limited and this issue needed to be studied more.
The German-funded Identification of Poor Households Program of the Ministry of Planning is well suited to become the standardized household data system for the social support system, Chou Putheany, director of the Ministry’s Social Planning Department, said.
She added that the IDPoor program will complete detailed and reliable poverty mapping in six provinces in 2009 and a two-year national household survey could start in 2010.