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
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,"