GOVERNMENT-DONOR COORDINATION COMMITTEE (GDCC)
8th Meeting, Phnom Penh, Thursday, 5th October 2006
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN CAMBODIA
1. I make this brief statement to provide an overview of Human Development efforts in Cambodia from the overall perspective of Ministry of Planning. More detailed clarifications, if needed, would be provided by my colleagues from respective sectoral ministries and agencies.
2. The Ministry of Planning in Cambodia was responsible for preparing the Human Development Report of Cambodia till a few years ago in a project assisted by the UNDP. However, UNDP for reasons not revealed to us, has stopped this support and is now reportedly asking some other agency to do this job.
3. Human Development is concerned with human progress. It is multi-dimensional and multi-faceted and results from the synergic interplay of various multi-sectoral factors. It can be looked at from different perspectives such as:
4. The last, I believe, is a more realistic and reasonable method of judging human development in any country rather than snapshot judgements that result in branding of countries in derogatory terms like “fragile”, etc. I will therefore provide a brief overview of progress in human development in Cambodia.
5. Caught as a pawn in a geo-political game of the 1960s and early 1970s, and later trapped under a genocidal regime spawned by that game, Cambodia’s human development indicators were the worst in 1979 when it was liberated. The country was at ground even below zero. Starting since then and in spite of ill-conceived international isolation for another 14 years the country lifted itself step by determined step under highly committed leadership.
6. Since 1979, more particularly since 1993, when the unjust embargo on international assistance to Cambodia came to an end, and much more significantly since 1998 when Cambodia achieved, on its own, full internal peace and political stability, Cambodia’s HD indicators in all the aspects have registered robust positive growth. Improvement of the human condition and betterment of human life have been the corner stones of the successive governments in Cambodia since 1979.
7. Let us look at some of the indicators already cited in the NSDP which have not changed significantly by the results from the recently concluded Cambodia Demographic Health Survey 2005.
8. In Health, infant mortality came down from a very high of 1979, to 95 per 1,000 live births in 2000 and to 65 in 2005. Maternal mortality similarly registered rapid decline from very high levels in 1979 to 437 per 100,000 births in 2000 but has not shown marked improvement in 2005. This is in part because the indicator is not sensitive and requires large shifts to detect measurable changes. The number of births attended by trained health personnel rose from nil in 1979 to 32% in 2000 and to 44% in 2005. Most impressively, HIV/AIDS infection rate, starting in the UNTAC era of 1992-1993, has been kept under check and after reaching a peak of 3% in 1997 has declined to 1.9% in 2003.
9. In Education, primary school enrolments of the relevant age group increased from nil in 1979, to 84% in 2000 and stood at 91.3% in 2005. More particularly, the proportion of girls enrolled in and completing primary school in the cohort group has increased steadily. Though more gradual, the picture at higher levels show clear growth, with more girls in the educational system. Higher level education is increasing the talent pool in the country in various fields.
10. In terms of macro-economic growth, Cambodia is going ahead at a rapid clip. GDP has been growing at nearly 7% for the last decade and reached a peak of 13.4% in 2005 in spite of unsustainably high international energy prices. Per capita income, after adjusting population growth, has increased from abysmal levels in 1979 to 897,000 riels in 1993 and is estimated at 1.6 million riel in 2005. Inflation has been contained. The exchange rate with foreign currencies remains stable. Although garment exports, tourism and construction contribute highly to growth, other domestic sectors like agriculture have been growing well.
11. A carefully directed programme of infrastructure renovation and improvement, particularly connecting rural areas, has facilitated access to interior areas for both services and flow of goods in both directions. Improved and expanded irrigation systems have spurred growth in agriculture which directly benefits the poor. Telecommunications within the country and with the outside world have grown in geometric proportions.
12. These very positive developments are clearly reflected in rapid decline in poverty. The entire population of the country or 100% was below poverty level in terms of minimum needed per capita consumption. This poverty level declined to about 47% in 1993 and stands at 35% in 2004. Poverty eradication has from the beginning of 1979 been the highest priority for successive governments of Cambodia.
13. All the developments I have mentioned have also meant increasing and enhanced participation of women in all aspects of life.
14. Democracy and political pluralism has grown and struck deep roots in the country. Three successful general elections were held in 1993, 1998 and 2003, all acclaimed as completely free and fair by an army of international observers on the ground at all stages from voter registration to vote counting. In 2002, we held our first commune level elections for 1,621 communes, again proclaimed as free and fair. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution. From the only government owned and controlled media of the 1980s, several media outlets, TV, Radio, print and electronic have mushroomed, freely providing without fear all kinds of news, views and criticisms of the government policies and actions. NGOs and civil society organisations are engaged in all aspects of life and operate all over and receive substantial amounts of external funds without any scrutiny or knowledge of the government.
15. We are very grateful for the immense assistance from the international community, in terms of finance, expertise and advice since 1993 which has greatly facilitated our progress so far.
16. We have proceeded so far on the path of progress neither because of external prodding nor to please others, least of all to get appreciation from others. We have done so out of our own deep convictions to do what we feel is right for our country and our people regardless of external negative opinion based on hidden political agendas. We are well aware of the long and hard road ahead to lift all our people out of poverty. We are not resting our oars on our well earned success so far. That is why we have prepared an ambitious, yet realistic, National Strategic Development Plan, 2006-2010, building on Cambodia Millennium Development Goals. The NSDP is balanced, clearly pro-growth, pro-rural and pro-poor. It allocates 35% of resources to Health and Education. It sets aside 60% for rural areas. We are determined to make it succeed and help us further advance human development in Cambodia. We invite the international community to help us in this effort and struggle ahead.