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What are the current issues in Cambodia

  • Overview

Cambodia has achieved impressive economic growth since the mid-1990s and has made significant progress in reducing national poverty. Cambodia is ranked 138 out of 185 countries on the UNDP 2013 Human Development Index. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate decreased from 53.2 percent in 2004 to 20.5 percent in 2011. However, a significant portion of the population remains ‘near poor’ as they are still at high risk of falling back into poverty at the slightest income shock. Thus, the impact of losing US$0.30 a day in income would double the poverty rate to 40 percent.

While Cambodia produces a surplus of paddy rice for export, household access to sufficient and nutritious food remains a serious challenge. This is due to high poverty rates and limited social protection coverage for the poor and vulnerable households.

According to the 2007 Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey (CSES), the proportion of the population living under the food poverty line is 18 percent. Strong improvement has been reported over the years on most key health indicators, as per the most recent Demographic Health Survey (CDHS 2010). However, malnutrition rates in Cambodia remain stubbornly high; almost 40 percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished (stunted), over 28 percent are underweight and 10.9 percent are acutely malnourished (wasted). One out of five women are underweight.

Micronutrient deficiencies, especially iron, vitamin A and iodine, are a major public health concern especially among children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women. The maternal mortality ratio is 206 per 100,000 live births and life expectancy is low at 58 years for men and 64 years for women.

Cambodia is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, with regular monsoon flooding in the Mekong and Tonle Sap basin and localized droughts in the plains region. Cambodia experienced extensive flooding at the end of 2011 and again in 2013, causing severe damage to livelihoods and to rice crops across flood-affected provinces.

Rising inequality, landlessness and deterioration of common property resources have eroded the coping capacity of food-insecure people in recent years. Limited access for the poor to education and health services and low levels of investment in public infrastructure perpetuate food insecurity and undernutrition.

In support of government efforts to tackle food security challenges, WFP's assistance in Cambodia focuses on food-based social safety nets in the sectors of education, nutrition and productive assets/livelihoods support, in order to enable longer-term, nationally owned food security solutions.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Cambodia

The overall goal of WFP's assistance in Cambodia is to improve the food security and nutrition situation of the hungry poor by building longer-term social capital and physical assets and by strengthening capacities that promote the development of sustainable national food security systems.

WFP Cambodia co-facilitates the Government-Development Partners' joint "Technical Working Group on Social Protection, Food Security and Nutrition" and the Humanitarian Response Forum; chairs the"United Nations Disaster Management Team"; and is an active member of the "Interim Working Group on Social Protection".

Working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia, WFP reaches over one million food-insecure people annually in the rural areas through its 2011-2016 Country Programme which includes providing food-based safety nets in the sectors of education, nutrition and livelihoods:

  • Education – Feeding Minds, Changing Lives

Providing daily meals in school gives less fortunate parents a strong incentive to send their children to school and keep them there. Nutritious school meals also enable children to focus on their studies instead of their hungry stomachs.

Every year, the WFP School Meals Programme brings daily nutritious breakfast to approximately half a million primary school children from grades one to six in 12 provinces. Moreover, the WFP Scholarships Programme provides food or cash entitlements to the poorest families with children in grades four to six, as long as their children attend school regularly.

  • Nutrition – The Right Food At The Right Time

Lack of proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child's life leads to irreversible impairments in physical and mental development. WFP Cambodia raises awareness on hygiene and basic health and nutrition practices, stressing the importance of breast-feeding and good complementary foods for pregnant, nursing mothers and young children. WFP also seeks to inform national policy by supporting operational research.

At present, WFP Cambodia is working with partners to develop a locally-produced fortified nutritious food supplement to provide a more accessible source of supplementary food that prevents stunting among children.

Productive Assets and Livelihoods Support (PALS) – Building Resilient Communities

WFP's Food-for-Assets/Cash-for-Assets projects, known as the PALS programme, supports food-insecure families by providing them with opportunities to create or rebuild communal assets in exchange for food or cash entitlements.

For more details about WFP's programmes in Cambodia, click here.

Featured Cambodia publications

  • Cambodia: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 311 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Cambodia? Visit the Cambodia publications archive.