The SDC’s commitment in Cambodia

Article, 21.03.2013

Local governance, training and agriculture

The SDC’s new cooperation programme in Cambodia focuses on local governance and citizens’ participation, vocational training and employment, agriculture and food security. The programme is part of a new cooperation strategy for the Mekong region (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) for 2013–2017.

Providing pre-school education to more children is one of the specific aims of the programme. (

Swiss efforts in Cambodia were previously limited to helping the Kantha Bopha hospitals and Swiss NGOs active in the country. As of 2013 the SDC regional cooperation programme for Mekong will for the first time include Cambodia. The SDC’s activities in this part of Asia focus on impoverished and marginalised rural populations in an effort to improve living standards and reduce inequality. Switzerland is committed to promoting social peace and stability throughout the region.

Restoring war-affected institutions

Nearly 40 years of insecurity and internal conflicts have left their mark. The people of Cambodia remain traumatised by the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1975–79) whose bloody regime destroyed the country’s institutions as well as economic and social structures. The international community has done much to support the transition towards a state that holds a responsible attitude towards the people and provides public services fairly in a politically stable environment which promotes sustainable economic growth. Although much progress has been made, the challenges remain considerable: reducing poverty, improving healthcare and education, strengthening the rule of law.

Although the first local elections were held in 2002 the democratic process is still fragile. Greater efforts are needed to promote human rights and develop the legal system. The current reform of state structures gives priority to improving local governance. A decentralised administration close to the citizens should improve access to education and health for marginalised segments of the population and increase their participation in decisions on development matters that concern them.

Economic growth, for whose benefit?

Economic growth has been rapid in Cambodia, reaching 6.5% in 2012, thanks mainly to the textile industry and tourism. Agriculture, based in particular on rice, is a major source of employment and provides food security. This growth has however not been felt in rural areas where 80% of the population live and depend on subsistence farming.

To a great extent the speed of economic growth is due to the granting of land rights to foreign investors. This has resulted in a great many disputes and expulsions, aggravating social tensions. In recent years the government has tried to remedy the situation by distributing land rights to some 350,000 families. The fair distribution of land and guaranteed access are essential to socially equitable economic growth.

Vocational training and employment

Another major challenge concerns vocational training and job creation. Half of the population of Cambodia is under the age of 20, 60% of the population did not complete primary school. Some 300,000 young people enter the labour market each year. The lack of education and training leads to pitifully low wages, to exploitation and migration, with women being the most affected. The promotion of vocational training and the creation of sources of income are the keys to sustainable development in Cambodia, and are among the national development priorities.

Food security and development of the agricultural sector

Development of the agricultural sector is the third priority for Swiss development cooperation in Cambodia, after local governance and vocational training. About 40% of children suffer from malnutrition, while about one third of Cambodia’s population of about 14.5 million live below the poverty line, making it one of Asia’s poorest nations occupying 89th place among the 105 countries listed in the Global Food Security Index. The main problem facing the agricultural sector is low productivity due to the lack of irrigation systems, access to training and technology, and underdeveloped markets.

Food security is an endemic problem: many Cambodian families suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Although some progress has been made at the level of primary education, the illiteracy rate remains high as does the number of children who leave school early. The access of girls and women to education and gainful employment is problematic; violence against women is commonplace.

Progress in healthcare

There have been positive results in the area of healthcare. Cambodia is expected to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for lowering maternal and infant mortality. Even so, the health situation remains fragile with a high number of cases of tuberculosis and widespread mental health problems. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are other problem areas, affecting the rural population in particular.

The SDC supports the hospitals of Kantha Bopha, which celebrated 20 years of existence in 2012. Created by Swiss paediatrician Dr. Beat Richner, these hospitals are helping to improve healthcare in Cambodia, beginning with the children. A new agreement between the SDC and the Kantha Bopha Foundation brings the annual Swiss contribution to CHF 4m for the 2013–2015 period. The SDC is convinced that a wider financial base is needed to ensure the long-term existence of these hospitals.

Regional strategy

In its Message to Parliament on Swiss International Cooperation, approved by parliament in 2012, Cambodia is a new priority country of Swiss cooperation. This makes it part of the SDC’s Mekong regional cooperation strategy 2013–2017; previous Mekong strategies covered only Laos and Vietnam. The SDC intends to devote between CHF 10–12m annually to cooperation efforts in Cambodia.hen.