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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGOs begin a new chapter

NGOs begin a new chapter

Cambodia's army of aid workers is facing huge tasks and, according to some forecasts,

changed roles amid lawlessness on Phnom Penh's streets and the departure of UNTAC.

Despite extensive U.N.-initiated programs during the 18-month UNTAC period, non-government

organizations (NGOs) point to a mountain of remaining social, health and infrastructure

problems, a list that shows UNTAC's work may be finished but NGO work has just entered

another chapter of a very long book.

"The further you get into the boondocks [countryside] the more you realize very

little has been done to help rural Cambodians," said Scott Rankin, program manager

of Overseas Service Bureau, highlighting an almost complete lack of infrastructure.

Several areas need urgent attention post-UNTAC according to three NGOs interviewed

last week. These include the constant danger of an estimated six to ten million mines,

the thousands of families still in desperate need of permanent homes, the massive

social problem of re-integrating hundreds of thousands of recently repatriated people

and the country's lamentable health system.

Representatives from World Vision International and Save the Children Fund Australia

(SCFA) also forecast changed roles for NGOs as bilateral money, once channeled through

NGOs during Cambodia's re-emergence from isolation, is allocated directly to the

government and well-established U.N. agencies.

The earlier funding arrangements put NGOs in the unusual position of implementing

large-scale, bilaterally-funded reconstruction and aid projects, a role that some

feel can be relinquished.

"I think NGOs will perhaps move back into what has been the traditional NGO

area . . . working at province, district and community levels," said Sandy Hudd,

program manager of SCFA.

NGOs face these challenges and changes amid Khmer Rouge attacks in the provinces

and open-faced banditry in Phnom Penh.

As recently as last week, a Cambodian Red Cross worker died and another lost a leg

in a Nov. 9 night attack at Sala Visey commune in Kompong Thom province.

The possible cost to Cambodia of such unchecked lawlessness was demonstrated when

two major aid agencies - including UNHCR - said they would pull out of the country

if the security situation continued to worsen.

While expressing serious concerns about the problem and reinforcing calls for government

action, the NGOs spoken to emphasized their commitment to aid work, albeit with tight

security measures.

Rankin says an essential role for NGOs in the post-UNTAC period is to build the self-help

skills of Cambodians, a policy already pursued by the Overseas Service Bureau.

Integral to this, and an area Rankin asserts has been overlooked by NGOs, was in-depth

discussions with Cambodians about their aims and priorities.

Talmage Payne of World Vision International identified three main issues that

his agency believes will fall to NGOs in the wake of UNTAC's departure:

  • De-mining, whether by direct NGO action or NGOs lobbying the government.
  • Re-integrating the 300,000 repatriated refugees from Thailand, many of whom returned

    with almost no family ties or community support. Payne described this as a long-term

    social problem needing a long-term remedy.

  • Resettling an estimated 1,500 families displaced in Oct. alone by continued fighting

    in areas north of Siem Reap and northern Bantay Manatee.

Hudd of SCFA added to the list the appalling child health and education statistics,

with one child in five still not reaching their fifth birthday.

All three NGOs applauded the relatively recent advent of indigenous Cambodian NGOs,

now numbering more than 50, saying that they could play an active and effective role.

Hudd believes it is also important that the government effectively manage aid funding

because of its new status.

"We do see this as the best chance for Cambodia . . . to move forward,"

she said.

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