The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated in the southwest of the Indochinese peninsular and has a rich culture that dates back 2,000 years ago. The country has a land area of 181,035 square kilometres and population of 15.2 million people (2014). Like in the rest of Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s climate is characterized by two main seasons: the monsoon, which brings rain from mid-May to October, and dry season from November to April. Economically, Cambodia has enjoyed strong growth rates during the past decade. Economic performance had positive statistics telling of an average GDP gwoth of 8.2% between 2000-2010, and 7.4% from 2011-2013. GDP per capita is US$1,036 [MEF's statement on 22 July 2013] compared to approximately US$200 in1992. As a result, Cambodia's economic status has now been upgraded as a low Middle Income Country.
Cambodia gained its independence in 1953. Since then and through to 1970, it was a self-sufficient and prosperous country that excelled in many areas of development. Following an extended period of civil war, the Paris Peace Accord in 1991 created the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC), which was backed by some 22,000 United Nations peacekeepers to prepare the first free and fair election in the country. In May 1993, UNTAC supervised Cambodia’s first general election. His Majesty Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as King. In 2004, he abdicated the thrown and his son, Norodom Sihamoni, was elected by the Thrown Council to be the King of Cambodia in October that year. Former King Sihanouk passed away in October 2012.
Cambodia is a party to a number of international conventions. They include Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (Ottawa Treaty; ratified July 1999), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW; ratified October 1992), UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC; ratified December 1995), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD; December 2012), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; ratified October 1992), and several international covenants on social, cultural, economic and political rights.
Cambodia’s achievements in economic development during the past two decades have resulted in significant reduction in the poverty rate, which stood at 13.5 percent in 2014 [MOP] compared to 50 percent in 1992. However, there remain many challenges for Cambodia to address. One of them is the growing inequality – income disparity, regional disparity between the urban population and the rural poor, and gender disparity. Women continue to face disadvantages in getting secondary and higher education, decently paid employment opportunities and decision-making roles in the government’s institutions. Gender-based violence remains a serious issue.
Cambodia has entered into a demographic bonus period. Youth, defined as an age group between 15 and 30 years old, makes up 33 percent of the population [MOEYS, National Policy on Development of Cambodian Youth]. This represents a significant young labour force. An estimated 300,000 young Cambodians [UNCT’s Common Advocacy Point, 2011] enter the labor market every year, but often they do not have the required skills to meet the needs of the labour market. Therefore, equipping young people with quality education and skills is crucial to ensure that Cambodia moves towards improved equality and wealth for its citizens. The quality of the young people who will join the labour force will determine whether Cambodia can take advantage of the demographic bonus period, a one-time opportunity for development.
Cambodia has a rich bio-diversity, including an array of diverse organisms and forest resource on which many poor people in the countryside depend for livelihood. However, in recent years the forest resource has increasingly come under pressure from economic land utilization. Meanwhile, the country is known to be vulnerable to impacts of climate change due to its low adaptation capacity. Rural populations are most at risk to destructive climatic events such flood and drought.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs) continue to pose obstacle to the advancement of development especially in the countryside despite progress made in clearing them during the last two decades. Cambodia has set target to clear some 658 square kilometres of mine-affected areas by 2019, a huge task which will require sustained external financial support to get the job done.
With its GDP per capita now over US$1,000, Cambodia is well on its way to earn a status of lower-middle income country in the next few years. The government has set a vision for Cambodia to become an upper-middle income country in 2030. Reaching the lower-middle income country status represents a significant milestone for the country. Yet, it also represents a challenge to its future development prospect. It stands to lose some of the privileges and preferences in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA) that it has been enjoying so far as a least developed country. ODA is expected to go down, compelling Cambodia to raise national revenue and finance public services by moving towards a more self-sustaining economy.
Over the past nearly two decades, Cambodia’s economy has been among the fastest growing economies, unmatched by any other post-conflict society. Factors contributing to this fast economic growth included: restoration of peace and security; large public and private capital inflows; economic openness; fairly stable macroeconomic conditions; and dynamic and integrating neighborhoods. As a result, Cambodia has registered massive gains and improvements on human development as measured by the HDI: life expectancy at birth, educational attainments and providing decent living standards measured in Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (Purchasing Power Parity). Between 1995 and 2012, Cambodia’s GNI per capita increased by some 163 percent, from US$797 to US$2,095 (2005 PPP$).
Overall, Cambodia’s HDI for this period experienced fast growth in the three HDI dimensions at an annual average growth rate of about 1.7 percent, an average HDI growth faster than the Low and Medium HDI groups. As a result, Cambodia is among the 40 countries in the South that have had greater gains in HDI between 1990 and 2012 than would have been predicted by their previous performances.