UN Report Says Wealth Disparity is Growing

Despite a decade of economic growth Cambodia has not re­duced poverty and there are indications that the plight of the country’s poor may be worsening, with inequality most prevalent between better off “urban enclaves” and the countryside, the UN stated in a report released Friday.

Gross domestic product has grown modestly in Cambodia at be­­tween 6 percent and 7 percent annually, but the population’s consumption has reduced, there are few­er public health facilities, there is rising infant and child mortality and there is growing rural underemployment, the UN Develop­ment Programme stated.

Though the statistics are bleak, the UNDP case study, “The Ma­cro­­economics of Poverty Reduc­tion in Cambodia,” notes that due to ongoing social and economic sta­bility, targeted government development of the agricultural sector and rural areas could pay dividends.

“Most of the economic growth of the past decade has been confined to urban enclaves, while rur­al growth, especially in staple food production, has barely kept pace with the increase in population,” the UNDP states.

Though admitting an absence of reliable data, the UN notes “there are signs that economic growth du­r­ing the past decade has not pro­duced any significant poverty re­duction. Indeed, there are some signs that the situation is worsening.”

UN reports on Chi­na, Indonesia, Mongolia, Ne­pal and Vietnam were also launched Fri­day at a UNDP regional workshop in Phnom Penh, which was attended by Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

“The Royal Government of Cam­bodia admits that reform is not built in a day nor completed in one giant step. It must be a steadfast and continuous process,” said Keat Chhon in a speech, adding that re­form and good governance would continue.

Speaking to reporters later, Keat Chhon blamed a burgeoning population and corruption among state employees on the worsening poverty. The 10-month-long political deadlock was also a factor, he said.

“To reduce the gap between the rich and poor, in the city and countryside, we have to promote agro-industry and agriculture,” he said.

Keat Chhon also said that the gov­ernment had reduced poverty, from 36 percent of the population to 35 percent.

According to the UN report, be­tween 40 percent and 45 percent of Cambodians “subsists below the po­v­erty line and there is no evidence that this situation is improving.”

Almost one in every 10 babies born in Cambodia does not live to their first birthday, “These figures earn Cambodia the unenviable position as the country with the highest infant mortality in East and Southeast Asia,” the report added.

The number of medical centers at the commune level has also declined steadily since 1989.

“Teachers’ salaries are barely at the subsistence level and most schools receive little or no funds for other recurrent expenditure,” the report added.

Son Chhay, opposition party law­maker, said on Friday that if the country’s “tycoon” business people paid taxes, the country would have finances to fight poverty.

Son Chhay said the government needs to spend around $250 million each year on poverty reduction, such as improving education, improving medical care and in­creasing civil servants’ salaries.

“I wonder whether the government pretends it doesn’t know how to fight poverty. If the people are poor, they are easy to control,” he said.


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