UN and ADB Say Millennium Goals Threatened

Five years from the deadline to achieve global development targets, the UN and Asian Develop­ment Bank said in a report yesterday that the global economic crisis had put Cambodia “off track” and that government policy must focus on social welfare.

Placing Cambodia alongside Ne­pal and Laos, the report says the nations have the greatest risk of making “slow progress” on curbing poverty levels and child malnutrition.

Cambodia is “off track” to meet more than half the benchmarks from seven of the eight global development goals, which include halving extreme poverty and reducing child mortality to two thirds of 1990 levels by 2015.

In 2003, Cambodia adopted the eight millennium development goals, adding a ninth for demining, UXO clearance and victim assistance.

The report shows only 20 percent of Cambodia’s population to be covered by social protection schemes. Just over 1 percent of Cambodia’s GDP is spent on social protection measures, a lesser share than is spent by countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, the report states.

“Most stimulus measures have focused on areas other than social expenditures,” Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB vice president, said yesterday in a statement. “If we are to address the human impacts of the economic slowdown and achieve the MDGs, then social spending needs to be stepped up substantially.”

Ajay Chhibber, UN Development Program regional director for Asia, echoed these comments warning that without better protection people “will fall back into poverty.”

Out of the 21 development indicators listed in the report, Cambodia is making “slow progress” on nine, including primary school enrolment and completion, child mortality, child malnutrition and care for expectant mothers.

No progress at all has been recorded in achieving environmental sustainability in areas of forest cover and carbon emissions, according to the report.

The report highlights, however, that Cambodia has already achieved certain millennium development goals, namely in combating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as providing access to safe drinking water. Goals concerning gender equality in schools are also largely on course to be achieved.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly commission on the economy and finance, said the government had plans within the national budget to help people in difficulty.

“The government has asked the National Assembly to give another $18 million to help people in the agricultural sector,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen had also ordered banking officials to increase the number of interest friendly loans to the public.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, referred questions to the Council for the Development of Cambodia. Secretary-General Sok Chenda could not be reached.

In an interview, Ajay Markanday, country representative for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, said focusing on agriculture investment was key.

“To address the issues of food security and hunger in developed countries we really have to re-orientate the amount of investment that needs to go in to agriculture,” said Ajay Markanday, country representative for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. “A sustainable solution on food security has to be found.”

Public coffers have to provide employment for the poorest members of society, most of which reside in rural areas, he added.

Mr Markanday said that as the economic recovery takes hold food prices would likely rise. The effects of this on poverty levels and malnutrition will depend on the capacity of countries to stimulate economic growth through investment, he said.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)


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