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Public transport a priority: WB

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
One of the new city buses in Phnom Penh, which is helping to get people around. KT/Soth Sophary

As the urban population continues to grow at rate of 2.6 percent per year, improving public transport and coming up with detailed urbanisation plans should be top priorities for authorities in Phnom Penh, as well as for other urban centres, including Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, the World Bank suggested in a report.

The World Bank report, titled “Expanding Opportunities for Urban Poor”, estimates that 3.14 million of the country’s 15.38 million people live in the city, roughly 20.5 percent. The report was released yesterday.

With a total urban population of about 1.6 million people, Phnom Penh is considered the only major urban area in the country. According to the report, Battambang and Siem Reap have populations of 228,681 and 264,034 people respectively.

Cambodia is now in the early stages of urbanisation, the report claims. With more people migrating to the cities every year, several issues require the urgent attention of city planners.

Informal urbanisation, for example, increases the gap between rich and poor, says Judy Baker, the lead urban specialist of the World Bank and author of the report.

The report also finds that poverty levels in the capital are considerably higher than official figures suggest ~29 percent in the report compared with 12.8 percent according to government figures.

“Urbanisation is happening fast in Phnom Penh and also in other cities like Sihanoukville and Siem Reap,” Ms Baker said.

Insufficient investment on infrastructure worsens living standards for low-income people living in the outskirts, depriving them of access to public transportation and other public services, she added.

The authorities must revise the current slum policy and strive to improve access to public transportation so the low-income population living in the outskirts can travel to the city, Ms Baker suggested.

“Cambodia is at an early stage of urbanisation. People come to the city because there are opportunities to access jobs, better housing and schools. Right now is the time for Cambodia to take action and improve basic services so that people can come to the city,” she said.

“Most people in urban poor communities are employed in low-skill occupations with 60 percent of households earning less than $75 per month,” the report states.

“More than two-thirds of the urban poor are indebted, with loan payments constituting a significant portion of monthly expenditures, though much of which payments go towards the loan interest.”

Planning the development of the city and providing basic public services to the poor are the best approaches to deal with the migrant influx, Ms Baker said.

Hok Kim Eang, the bureau chief of the Urban Office at Phnom Penh City Hall, said that as the city grows larger, public services have been extended to residents of all 12 districts.

“The city has been enlarged to reduce traffic congestion. We have a clear master plan that we will follow step by step,” Mr Kim Eang said, declining to provide further comments.

According to a 2008 census, the population in the capital stands at 1.2 million, with 400,000 migrants arriving within the five years leading up to the census. Migrants to Phnom Penh are overwhelmingly young and female, which is changing the city’s age and gender profile.

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