Land to lose: coronavirus compounds debt crisis in Cambodia

At least 1.76 million jobs in the nation of about 16 million people are at risk due to COVID-19, while the poverty rate could double, to about one-in-four people, the World Bank said in May. Cambodian human rights groups have this year called for a freeze on loan repayments due to the virus and for lenders to return more than one million land titles held as collateral.

As dark clouds approached her village in northwestern Cambodia one afternoon in July, Set Sreylon prepared for the monsoon that threatened to flood her new family home.

While the rains were a concern, the 37-year-old feared a bigger threat to her property – the daily visits from debt collectors demanding repayments on her microfinance loan and ensuing credit she had taken out to keep up with the repayments. With the coronavirus pandemic ending Sreylon and her husband’s jobs in the tourism industry, the mother-of-two was at a loss as to how she would keep the lenders at bay, and clear a growing debt secured by the title to her family’s land.

Her debt – originally a single loan from a microfinance institution (MFI) – had almost doubled in a year to $8,000 and was pursued by various loan sharks charging up to 40% interest. “You borrow from A to pay B, then you borrow from B to pay C,” she said outside her home in Pouk district, a few miles from Cambodia’s Angkor temples and the tourism hotspot of Siem Reap.

In full:

Related Stories

Latest News