Poverty Rife in Much of Nation, Despite UN Pledge Remains Endemic

kong pisei district, Kompong Speu province – The UN may have declared Oct 17 as the “International Day for the Erad­ication of Poverty” back in 1993, but it was news to Tob Tauy.

“Never heard of that,” the 70-year-old farmer said outside his home in Trav village Monday.

Tob Tauy did know, however, that much of his village was once again falling into debt before the rice harvest, that rising gas prices had driven up food costs and that sickness could easily drive a family into debt-problems that are echoed elsewhere in the area.

Trav village is less than an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh’s villas, restaurants, shopping malls and luxury vehicles that make it easy to overlook the poverty en­demic to much of Cambodia.

In a November 2005 report, the World Bank said that 35 percent of Cambodians live below the poverty line of $0.50 per day. It also noted that Cambodia has the lowest agriculture production in Southeast Asia.

Tob Tauy said that things have improved some in the last two years because of irrigation projects.

“But people still don’t have enough food,” he said, adding that as a result, farmers perpetually fall into debt about two months before the rice crops are ready in the first few months of the year.

Villager Oung Baraing, 32, said he was so short on cash that he has no choice but to scour the rice paddies for fish and crabs—a practice taken up by many out of necessity.

The financial implications of illness were a common fear among villagers.

“Usually people make enough to live,” said Touch Yon, 62, of neighboring Prey Sbob village, as he slowly walked a hay-laden bicycle along a rubbish-strewn drainage ditch. “But if somebody gets sick then they are in trouble.”

In Touch Yon’s case, his wife fell sick and his adopted daughter is mentally ill. As a result, he had to pawn his half-hectare rice paddy for about $30. He now continues to farm the land, but will receive only half of the harvest.

Touch Yon now raises cows for wealthy people for about $0.35 per day to supplement his in­come—but it is not enough to buy meat.

“But if you take care of a cow for a Cham butcher, then you might get a few bones or pieces of meat that do not sell or maybe a lung,” Touch Yon said.

For the time being, his financial woes have been somewhat alleviated, but at a terrible price. His 17-year-old daughter is being taken care of by the local rights group Licadho, but only because she was raped in early September.

Dy Son, 65, a motorbike me­chanic in Takeo province’s Bati district, has the most successful business in Neal village.

The ramshackle, grease-covered shed that serves as his workshop takes in up to $5 a day. An impressive sum for businesses in the area, but very difficult to spread between the 11 children and five grandchildren dependent on him.

“Most days we just make enough for food to eat,” Dy Son said in a slurred, barely audible whisper, the result of a recent stroke that left half his body partially paralyzed.

Dy Son said that because of the stroke and the associated medical costs he is deep in debt, and that his rice field only produces enough to last his family seven or eight months each year.

Even so, he was all smiles as he sat awkwardly atop an air pump Monday.

When asked how he could be so cheerful despite all his troubles he replied simply: “Because now is better than the Khmer Rouge time.”


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