UN Gives Cambodia Mixed Reviews on Goals

Five years into the 15-year Millen­nium Development Pro­ject, Cambodia is on track to meet some of the Millennium De­velopment Goals, but needs to in­crease its efforts in many areas, UN representatives said at a news con­ference on Wednesday.

“In general the results to date have been mixed,” UN Resident Co­ordinator Douglas Gardner said.

“There have been some good developments, particularly as it relates to HIV/AIDS and primary school enrollment, but we also feel that there are shortfalls…. We still have ten years left to accelerate and renew the focus on the ar­eas that are falling short,” he said.

The UN distributed copies of a Min­istry of Planning update about the goals that assigns grades of between “A” and “E” to each of Cambodia’s 106 targets.

The update forms the basis of the government’s four-year Na­tional Strategic Development Plan being finalized this month.

Cambodia gets an “A” on HIV prevalence, which has decreased from 3.3 percent in 1997 to 1.9 percent in 2005.

It also gets high marks for reducing birth rates from four to 3.3 children per woman, and for re­ducing child mortality rates among under-fives from 124 per 1,000 in 1998 to 82 per 1,000 this year, and infant mortality from 95 per 1,000 in 1998 to 66 per 1,000 this year.

Having only 18.7 percent of chil­dren aged six to 14 out of school also earns Cambodia an “A.”

The top goal of reducing poverty, however, gets a “C” or “im­proving but below target” rating.

Although the UN’s worldwide goal is to halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day between 1990 and 2015, Cambo­dia set for itself the goal of reducing its 1993 national poverty rate of 39 percent by half, to 19.5 percent.

The national poverty line in Cam­bodia was defined in 2003 as liv­ing on between $0.40 and $0.59 per person per day. Today, 28 per­cent of people living in the ac­cessible areas surveyed in 1993 live below that poverty line.

Throughout the country, the rate now stands at 34.7 percent of people living below the poverty line, according to government statistics.

The goal of increasing the consumption levels of the poorest of the poor gets the worst mark, “E,” because their share of goods con­sumed nationally has de­creased from 8.5 percent in 1993 to 7 percent today.

Much of the data in the Min­istry of Planning’s update comes from a single source, the government’s new 2004 Socio-Economic Survey.

Experts said that the data in this report is far more reliable than data from previous surveys and said they saw no evidence that the government has manipu­la­ted the data to bolster its record of achieve­ments.

Mustafa Mujeri, the UN statistician who helped write the Min­istry of Planning’s update, said the results were obtained in a sci­en­tific manner, though he added that they are flawed as all surveys must be.

Tim Conway, a World Bank pov­erty specialist, said that the large sample of 15,000 households and increased training of sur­veyors makes the survey more reliable than others.

But, he said, the way questions were phrased about child mortality and infant mortality in the survey mean that the public should wait for a 2006 Demographic Health Survey for an accurate mea­sure of how far they have dropped.

Rodney Hatfield, the UN Chil­dren’s Fund country representative, also recommended waiting for better data on child mortality.

“I think the evidence is that the infant mortality rate is falling quickly, but we all need to be careful and not wave the flag and shout hooray too quickly,” he said.

Asked if the decline in HIV prevalence could simply be due to increased deaths of AIDS pa­tients, he said that data indicates infection rates have also declined.

Gardner said changing patterns of infection could reverse the de­cline, however.

“We are seeing transmission patterns changing where HIV is being transmitted from husbands to wives and it is not just an urban sex worker phenomenon,” he warned.

UN officials also emphasized that more needs to be done to keep children in school because as of this year, only 52 percent of primary school students are staying to ninth grade.

Mujeri said that a range of solutions, including increasing teachers’ salaries to stop them taking bribes, are necessary.

Conway and Hatfield suggested that the government would need to increase tax revenue to pay for this.

Gardner said that in the coming years, decentralization projects will bring the benefits of development to remote areas where poverty re­mains high.

Gardner also said donors have listened to government concerns that too much money is spent on surveys and technical assistance.

“The challenge is how do we get better at what we do. The fore­­most ingredient in that is be­ing good listeners and not doing what is now called substitution tech­nical assistance, but genuine ca­pacity-building so Cambodians can take the responsibilities that will move the issues forward,” he said.

The UN coordinator declined to say whether these changes and planned spending by the government and donors on poverty re­duction would succeed in achieving the 2015 goals.

“That chapter remains to be written,” he said.


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