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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Energy, disease risks: report

A patient and a family member sit on a bed at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in 2013
A patient and a family member sit on a bed at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in 2013. A new report lists Cambodia as one of only two countries in the world with a Pandemics Risk Index rating of extreme. Heng Chivoan

Energy, disease risks: report

A global risk-analysis firm has released a grim – albeit partial – snapshot of Cambodia, noting that the Kingdom’s overreliance on essential resources from other countries leaves it vulnerable to instability, and that it is at “extreme risk” of a communicable-disease pandemic.

The Global Risks and Resilience Atlas 2015 – which looks at natural and manmade problems affecting the globe, and which was released last week by risk-analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft – placed Cambodia at the top of its external resource security risk index, which rates a country’s vulnerability to fluctuations in outside sources of water, energy and food.

Verisk identified as a major concern Cambodia’s overreliance on outside sources of water and energy.

This lack of independence becomes a liability, the report notes, because “as the reliance on internationally sourced staple commodities increases, new threats to the sustainability and viability of supply chains that lie beyond any one country or government’s control also begin to emerge”.

What’s more, the lack of energy independence also leaves the country open to aggressive energy diplomacy. Between 2008 and 2011, deadly clashes over ownership of territory along the Cambodia-Thailand border saw Thailand cut energy supplies to Cambodia, leaving thousands in the dark.

The country’s need for energy independence has been a key argument of the government in favour of dams currently in planning, including the controversial Sesan and Areng Valley projects, though those projects have been widely panned by observers as presenting their own significant threats to food security.

The report also selected Cambodia, alongside Bangladesh, as the only two countries to receive the “extreme” rating on the Pandemics Risk Index.

Countries most at risk for such outbreaks are characterised by “densely populated urban centres with underdeveloped rural regions”, the report says, pointing to outbreaks of avian influenza as evidence of the Kingdom’s susceptibility.

Multiple government officials either declined to answer questions, or could not be reached for comment on the report’s findings.

However, according to Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) head of mission in Cambodia, Adriana Palomares, the country’s current battle with tuberculosis, which MSF is heavily involved in, is already considered a pandemic.

And while Cambodia is improving its health infrastructure “day by day”, she said, the recent HIV outbreak in Battambang province is a “clear alert to the authorities”.

“Cambodia is not ready to respond alone to a pandemic,” she said.

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