Report Says Capital has Lowest Living Standards in Region

Phnom Penh scored low again in a report on urban living conditions released Monday by British think tank The Economist Intelligence Unit, which placed the city in the 128th spot out of 140 cities surveyed around the globe, a ranking that put it behind every other surveyed Southeast Asian city.

Phnom Penh scored 49.8 out of 100, or slightly below the 50 mark, which means that it presents “daily challenges to living standards,” according to a news release Monday from the EIU.

As recently as 2006, Phnom Penh received a rating of 53, Jon Copestake, editor of the report, said by telephone from London. Any decrease is “obviously a bad sign,” he said, although he said he would have to study past reports to give a detailed assessment.

In the report, Phnom Penh trailed just behind Ho Chi Minh City, which came in at spot 125; Hanoi, at 124; and Jakarta, at 123. Singapore was named the most livable city of those surveyed in Southeast Asia, in the 54th spot. No cities in Burma or Laos ap-

pear in the report, although a city in every other Asean country is represented.

Out of the 140 cities rated around the globe, Vancouver, Canada, came in first, with 98 points, and Vienna, Austria, was in second place with 97.9 points. Canada and Australia each had three cities in the top ten, and Switzerland had two.

In the last 10 positions, Asia and Africa each had five cities.

Harare, Zimbabwe, with 37.5 points, was ranked last in the report, while Algiers, Algeria, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, each with 38.7 points, were tied for the second- and third-to-last spots.

The EIU survey looked at 30 measures across five broad categories: stability; health care; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure.

Phnom Penh fared worst in the survey in health care, with a score of just 38 out of 100, but got its highest mark for stability, with a score of 60 points, according to a copy of the Phnom Penh section of the report provided by Mr Copestake.

The city’s showing in stability seems to be at odds with an EIU report released in March, which controversially claimed that Cambodia was in the top five countries in the world at risk of major political unrest as a result of the global financial crisis.

Mr Copestake said he was unaware of the March report, but said the fact that the new survey only deals with Phnom Penh, as opposed to all of the country, may have something to do with the apparent discrepancy. He also pointed out that 60 out of 100 isn’t too high of a score.

In the measures that make up the five categories, Phnom Penh earned “undesirable” ratings, the second worst, for such areas as recreational sports, corruption and public education, among others. The city also earned “intolerable” ratings (the worst) in two measures: general healthcare and climate.

Phnom Penh got higher ratings in measures such as threat of military conflict, quality of private health care and religious restrictions, although the “acceptable” rating was not awarded.

The EIU survey is undertaken every six months and is based on national statistics and information from local correspondents for the company, part of The Economist Group, which owns The Economist magazine, said Mr Copestake, adding that data for the recent report was gathered in September of last year.

“It’s just a fairly simple means of benchmarking cities,” Mr Copestake said of the survey. Buyers of the $250 report include companies thinking about investing in cities, he added.

Pa Socheatvong, deputy governor of Phnom Penh municipality, said he disagreed with the EIU ranking, and said Phnom Penh has made a lot of gains since the last of the Khmer Rouge stopped fighting, some 10 years ago.

“I think their evaluation is groundless because both environment and security and other factors have improved,” said Mr Socheatvong, who maintained that car parking is the main problem in Phnom Penh.

The city, however, is working on a master plan that will add more parking spaces, he said.

Mr Socheatvong also acknowledged that rubbish on the streets is a problem.

, but he said the city is negotiating with trash-collection company Cintri to start recycling the trash.

, which he said will help the problem.

Walter Koditek, who works with the German development agency DED as an urban planning adviser to the municipality of Battambang, said he didn’t think living conditions were worse in Phnom Penh than in its Southeast Asian neighbors like Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok, which had a ranking of 100.

Mr Koditek pointed to traffic congestion, saying there was less in Phnom Penh than in those cities.

“The density of traffic and also the density of people is less than, for example, in Ho Chi Minh City,” said Mr Koditek, who added that he frequently visits Phnom Penh and other Southeast Asian cities.

“So the problems are not that extreme yet,” he said, noting that pollution was no worse or better than in other regional cities.

“They [the EIU] shouldn’t be taken too seriously…. Like all data, it is very much flexible as to what you want for the result,” he added.

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