Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs take questions at the seminar on reducing poverty.
Leading US academic professor Jeffrey Sachs told a lecture meeting in Phnom Penh
that Cambodia needed more assistance from the international community if it was to
overcome widespread poverty.
Sachs, the guest speaker, said experience from other parts of the world showed that
fighting malaria and AIDS, and improving agricultural productivity would prove decisive.
"Countries burdened by a high level of malaria have consistently underperformed
those non-malarial parts of the world," he said, "while countries with
low levels of agricultural productivity tend to remain poor and with a low level
And poverty alleviation, he noted, required a level of urbanization greater than
the 15 percent seen in Cambodia, since services were easier and cheaper to provide
in urban areas.
Health, education, a better business environment and observing the rule of law were
all vital to fighting poverty, yet Cambodia did not have the financial resources
to do so on its own. Sachs warned against the international community's focus on
the rule of law, despite its importance.
"The international community often puts the rule of law as its number one consideration,
but I would say that keeping children alive, fighting AIDS and malaria, and keeping
kids at school are more important," Sachs said. "That requires money from
the international community and proper partnership."
He noted that on health alone the government needed to spend around $40 a head annually,
but that revenue raising for all spending needs was only $30 per person. The international
community needed to increase its assistance since the government had proved unable
to achieve successfully its high goals.
"It is impossible to meet the needs of the country on $30 per person,"
said Sachs, who recently chaired the World Health Organiz-ation's commission on health
and economic development.
"The international community must help give the country the means to do it."
He added that Cambodia was fortunate in that it was now at peace and in a much
improved geo-political environment.
"This is surely the most propitious moment in Cambodia's long history for economic
development," he said. "But I don't think one can say that economic development
is assured, even with the [government's] right strategy [for poverty alleviation],
because the very poor are at risk of getting stuck in a poverty trap that makes it
hard to escape."
The lecture, which was held August 5, was organized by the Cambodian Institute for
Cooperation and Peace as part of its distinguished lecture series. It examined ways
in which the country could better reach its poverty alleviation targets.