Most Cambodians lack access to safe drinking water and millions are undernourished, but the quality of life is improving in Cambodia, according to a report released this week by the UN Development Program.
In its Human Development Report 2001, the UNDP ranks Cambodia 121st out of 162 countries based on income, education, life expectancy and health care. Last year, Cambodia was 136th out of 174 countries.
According to the report, Cambodians on average can expect to live to be 56.4 years old, compared to 53.5 years last year.
But developing countries like Cambodia still face myriad problems and often are left out when new technologies and medicines are created by developed countries, the report states.
Of the $70 billion spent in medical research in 1998, for example, only $300 million went toward the development of a HIV/AIDS vaccine, while $100 million was spent for malaria research.
“The picture is much the same for research on agriculture and energy,” said UN representative Dominique Ait Ouyahia-McAdams, who presented the report at Hotel Le Royal.
Whether rich or poor, however, all countries will have to master new technologies if they are to compete in global markets, Ait Ouyahia-McAdams said.
To do this, Cambodia must make improvements in the fields of education and technology, said Bretton Sciaroni, vice-chairman of the International Business Club in Phnom Penh.
This does not necessarily mean bringing Internet access to every corner of Cambodia.
He said the country should start with roads, so farmers can bring their produce to market, and with getting reliable electrical power.
Some government offices don’t even have computers, let alone Internet access, said Senator Siphan Phay. Cambodia needs international help to get proper equipment.
“We don’t want charity,” just equal access to be productive, he said.
Technology, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, is a necessary tool for Cambodia’s development.
The new electronic filing system for goods shipped to the US and the EU speeds up work and reduces the chances of corruption at the shipping stage, Sok Siphana said.