Although the Kingdom of Cambodia is rich in natural resources, decades of war and internal conflict have left it one of the world's poorest countries. The legacy of strife includes social and economic scars. Many millions of land mines were sowed throughout the countryside, where millions of them still lie, hidden and unexploded. Mines are an enduring menace to the eight out of ten Cambodians who live in rural areas, and they are an obstacle to agricultural development.
Cambodia's poor people number almost 4.8 million, and 90 per cent of them are in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but at least 12 per cent of poor people are landless. Small-scale farmers practice agriculture at the subsistence level, using traditional methods. Productivity is low.
Two thirds of the country's 1.6 million rural households face seasonal food shortages each year. Rice alone accounts for as much as 30 per cent of household expenditures. Rural people are constantly looking for work or other income-generating activities, which are mainly temporary and poorly paid.
Landlessness is one of the causes of a strong trend of internal migration that is also driven by the pressures of rapid population growth and the desire to evade from recurring flood and drought in lowland areas. People are moving from the more densely populated provinces in the south and west to the more sparsely populated provinces in the north-east, which include some of the country's poorest districts.
Who are Cambodia's poor rural people?
The country's poor people include subsistence farmers, members of poor fishing communities, landless people and rural youth, as well as internally displaced persons and mine victims. Tribal peoples and women are generally the most disadvantaged.
Women in particular do not have equal access to education, paid employment and land ownership and other property rights. For many women, reproductive health services are inadequate or non-existent. Many women had to assume the responsibility of heading their households after male family members were killed in conflict.
Where are they?
Poverty rates are highest in upland areas. The poorest people live in the districts close to the borders with Thailand and the Lao People's Democratic Republic in the north and north-east, and with Viet Nam in the east. Poverty is less severe in the districts around Tonle Sap Lake and those in the Mekong River basin in the south.
Cambodia's poorest people are isolated. They live in remote villages, far from basic social services and facilities. Many have to travel more than 5 km to reach a health clinic, and still others live more than 5 km from the nearest road.
Why are they poor?
The pressures of a fast-growing population contribute to poverty. Because of a lack of education and skills training, people have inadequate employment opportunities and low capabilities. They are insecure, excluded and vulnerable. They have limited access to natural resources. Poor health, lack of education, poor infrastructure and low productivity lead to deeper poverty. The cycle of poverty, ill health and high health care expenditure cripples poor Cambodian families economically.
Rural poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas have contributed to the spread of HIV AIDS, as young women migrate to urban factories and become sex workers in neighbouring countries. Although HIV prevalence rates have shown a decrease, the impact of the infection continues to be strong.