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There is a time to mend. - Ecclesiastes 3:7

Cambodia - A Brief History




However you measure it, Cambodia is a poor nation.  Rich in natural resources and stunning natural beauty, decades of war and internal conflict have left it one of the world's poorest countries.  It is a densely populated nation of 14.8 million, 90% of whom live in rural areas.   Most of them depend on agriculture, but 12% of these poor people are landless.  Their chief export is rice.  The country has a huge fresh water lake in the middle and large fertile valley, skirted by uplands and forested areas. It is twice the land size as Tasmania with more than 30 times Tassie's population.


Cambodia's peak of Asian influence occurred in the 13th century when it occupied current day Cambodia plus much of what is now Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.  In that century the nation built huge temples to Budda that still stand today.  They undertook massive irrigation works that increased their prosperity.


Fast-track to 1975 when Pol Pot lead the Khmer Rouge army into Phnom Penh and presided over a civil war that lasted for 4 ½ awful years.  From 1975-79 a quarter of the population was wiped out by execution, starvation and disease.  Schools were closed and people were forced into subsistence living.


Decades of internal strife, instability and inefficiencies have left the land and the people as one of the ten poorest nations on earth.


Understandably, there are plenty of opportunities to show compassion and assistance to Cambodians.  Many have looked for and found intelligent ways to help lift these people out of profound poverty.




Small-scale farmers practice farming at a subsistence level, using traditional methods.  Productivity is low and there are seasonal food shortages.  Rice alone can count for as much as 30% of rural household expenditure.  As in a lot of poor Asia, it's not uncommon for family members to leave home in search of work.  Given their lack of skills, the work is mainly temporary and poorly paid. Women in particular do not have equal access to education, paid employment, land ownership and other property rights.  Many women had to assume the responsibility for heading their households after male family members were killed in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge civil war of the 1970s, and the practice has endured. The average GDP per capita is $1900. However, most live in moderate poverty - less than $2 per day, while 40% live in extreme poverty - less than $1.25 per day.  Grinding poverty is a fact of life for too many Cambodians, 20% of whom live below the poverty line, with this number higher in rural areas.




Cambodia's poorest people live in remote villages, far from basic social services and facilities.

  • They are isolated, often having to travel 5km to get to a health clinic, still others live more than 5km from the nearest road.
  • Lack of education and skills training mean inadequate employment opportunities, with the consequence that the people feel insecure, excluded and vulnerable.
  • Unemployment is high.
  • Poor health, poor infrastructure and low productivity cripples poor Cambodian families economically, causing them to live in a cycle of poverty.
  • Rural poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas have contributed to the spread of HIV AIDS, as young women migrate to urban factories or to neighbouring countries to become sex workers.
  • Lack of proper sewerage and waste water treatment, coupled with poor standards of hygiene, results in contaminated water.  In Cambodia 60,000 children die each year (that's nearly 200 per day); many die to water-borne illnesses.
  • Under-nutrition remains a significant public health problem.  Among children under five, 40% are chronically malnourished.  19% of women are under-nourished.
  • It's a shocking fact that an estimated 80% of Cambodia's children are trafficked.
  • In common with many developing countries, the benefits of any progress are not evenly spread with less opportunities, infrastructure and services in the rural areas.