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Ending Poverty a Big Issue

Safiya Charles / Khmer Times Share:
Poor children play along the railway tracks in Phnom Penh. KT/Fabien Mouret

The public has spoken and among their top priorities for spearheading sustainable development in Cambodia are eradicating poverty, administering quality education and achieving peace and justice, according to a new survey published by NGO World Vision.
The survey takes focus on 2030’s UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted globally in 2015. The 17 goals have an explicit aim to end poverty, preserve the planet and ensure prosperity for all, and will be set in motion over the span of the next 15 years.
Conducted by the global poverty-fighting NGO from May to July this year, the voluntary survey revealed that 12,613 citizens from nine provinces across the country – including Battambang, Kampong Speu and Phnom Penh – ranked sustainable development goals 1: “No Poverty”, 16: “Peace and Justice” and 4: “Quality Education” as the objectives they felt were most important for the country’s national initiatives such as the National Strategic Development Plan, which will be up for revision in 2018 when its current term of execution comes to an end.
“The three SDGs voted for most often are not simple goals. These tasks require a great deal of commitment and coordination between ministries and departments of the Royal Government of Cambodia, and will also require coordination with civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, citizen groups and also international institutions.
“The first step is good planning,” said Steve Cooke, advocacy manager of World Vision Cambodia.
Following SGDs 1, 16 and 4, development goals three: “Good Health and Well-being,” and six: “Clean Water and Sanitation” are ranked fourth and fifth in the opinions of participants.
It is no surprise that the highest-ranked SDG was “No Poverty.”
While the rate of poverty continues to decline throughout the Kingdom, about 8.1 million of the country’s 15.5 million residents are still characterized as near-poor, 90 percent of whom live in the countryside, according to the World Bank.
The margin between the poor and near-poor is slim, as the World Bank sets the daily income of less than $1.90 as “poor” and “near-poor” as $2.30 a day respectively.
“It is not a surprise that reducing poverty remains a high priority for the Cambodian public as it still impacts so many citizens around the nation, and despite the progress we have seen in recent years, many people still fear being pulled back into poverty and insecurity,” said Soksophea Suong, senior campaign manager of World Vision’s Child Health Now program.
“Quality Education” is still an issue plaguing the country’s youth. Despite improvements that since 2000 have seen the net enrollment rate in primary school rise from 83 percent to 95 percent, only 53 percent of primary school students continue on to secondary school and gender-based disparities still exist, with many families seeing little to no value in educating their girls, according to the literacy focused NGO Room to Read.
Rampant child labor remains the primary culprit, relegating children to take to work to help support their families rather than attend school. Many schools still also lack basic classroom supplies and teachers are often unequipped, lacking proper training.
The relationship between health and education are often intertwined. Children who lack proper nourishment are more likely fall behind in school. The World Bank estimates that 32 percent of children in Cambodia under the age of five are stunted – a symptom of under-nutrition and persistent infections like diarrhea – while 79 percent of residents lack access to a piped water supply and 58 percent do not have access to improved sanitation, according to 2015 government statistics.
Lack of proper sanitation can lead to cross contamination of food and water causing children to fall ill. Without a latrine or an appropriate system of disposal, many poor families will often dispose of fecal excrement behind their homes or delay discarding it.
“When children get sick, they get thin. They don’t absorb nutrients and they don’t eat – their bodies become weak. If it happens over a long period of time it can [cause problems],” said Save the Children’s NOURISH project communications specialist Jeunsafy Sen.
Cambodia’s poor also have less access to food and food diversity, often consuming only one or two variations of rice and vegetables daily, according to Ms. Sen. She contends that among the country’s rural poor, the rate of stunting is even higher at 42 percent.
The survey’s sample was comprised of about 7,408 women and 4,988 men, with an average age of 31, and included government workers, students and private sector staff. The overwhelming majority of participants, about 47 percent, were those working in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
Participants’ priorities showed slight variations based on occupation and gender, with 51 percent of males ranking the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies slightly higher than the reduction of poverty, of which almost 57 percent of women voted as their top priority.
“Peace and Justice” is a topic Cambodia often scores low in on surveys. Corruption and bribery are widely-acknowledged and ever-present in almost every facet of the state’s operations, from areas of land management to private-sector development, and the country’s judiciary has been widely criticized for its less than impartial view of the law.
“When you have a judicial system that is so corrupt – the most corrupt system in the country – it is not going to lead to a peaceful society,” CNRP official Son Chhay told Khmer Times last month.
While a lack of opportunity, vulnerability and social exclusion play a definitive role in contributing to poverty, structural inequities perpetuate the uneven balance between rich and poor – allowing certain small groups of individuals the power to control a vast amount of Cambodia’s resources and industries, to the detriment of the poor population.
“CSOs and the private sector must consider what their contribution to the SDGs will be over the next 15 years – it cannot just be expected that the government will deliver on sustainable development without the good planning and commitment of all Cambodians to work together for change,” said Ms. Suong.

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