North Missing Out on Development, Report Says

A belt of poverty has formed across Cambodia’s north, where the remotest regions are lagging behind national gains in poverty reduction, according to a report released jointly by the government and the UN De­velopment Program yesterday.

Progress toward achieving the Mil­lennium Development Goals for child and maternal health and education also vary widely on a sub-national level, the report found.

In the past decade, poverty levels have dropped nationwide and, acc­ording to the World Bank, about 27 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line of $1.25 per day per person.

The report released yesterday showed that since 2005, 10 pro­vinces had been able to harness this development and have moved out of the lowest levels of poverty.

However, the provinces of Od­dar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri have re­mained in this category and have experienced no income growth, the report found.

A further analysis of poverty—defined by indicators such as quality of housing, access to basic services and household possessions—re­veals that elsewhere other pockets of deep poverty persist in places such as Kompong Speu province’s Oral district, Siem Reap province’s Svay Loeu district and Kratie pro­vince’s Sambor district.

The report also measures pro­gress in achieving Cambodia’s eight Millennium Development Goals be­tween 2005 and 2010 at the ­provincial, district and ­commune levels.

In September, the UNDP said Cambodia was “off track” on achieving three of these goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, im­proving maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability. Progress on education, gender equality and mine clearance was deemed “slow.”

The report released yesterday found that many provinces had made strides in improving maternal health, but Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri and Mon­dolkiri provinces had seen no im­provement. Nationwide, 461 women died for every 100,000 live births in 2008, according to the most recent government figures.

The same four provinces also had the worst performance on improving child health, while Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri had the lowest scores of all provinces in terms of access to basic education.

Sherif Rushdy, UNDP adviser for Cambodia’s Millennium Develop­ment Goals, said those four pro­vinces were falling behind due to a lack of access to education, health services and sanitation, while the region offered few economic pro­spects and low access to markets.

Mr Rushdy warned that there was “a poverty gap developing between these provinces and the rest of the country.”

“There is currently no explicit policy on how to deal with this,” he said, adding that he hoped the new analysis of development trends on a sub-national level would promote discussions on how to close this gap.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that the increasing disparities in health and income were in large part due to a lack of education.

“Only education can improve livelihoods and narrow the gap be­tween urban and rural,” he said.

Mr Yeap said, however, that the government found it hard to provide the northern region’s ethnic minority population with education and infrastructure, which was in part due to the fact that the hill tribes did not pay enough attention to education.

“The indigenous people seldom understand [education] enough to send their children to school,” he said, adding that it was also hard to find qualified teaching staff to teach in the remote provinces.

Viorica Berdaga, Unicef Child Survival and Development program chief, said a lack of health services and skilled birth attendants, low education levels among ethnic minority women and financial barriers related to transportation and use of services were causing the child and maternal health care problems in the north and northeast.

She said government officials were well aware of the health care disparities.

“They do recognize there is an issue, and they’re trying to address this,” Ms Berdaga said.

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