Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Despite gains, development lags

Despite gains, development lags

Children in a school classroom in Phnom Penh. A recent UN human development report shows that Cambodia has seen an increase in access to education since 1990.
Children in a school classroom in Phnom Penh. A recent UN human development report shows that Cambodia has seen an increase in access to education since 1990. Vireak Mai

Despite gains, development lags

Between the years of 1990 and 2015, Cambodia saw the region’s highest rate of improvement in the UN’s Human Development Index, a metric that tracks wellbeing, though the country’s overall score remains well below the average for countries in East Asia and the Pacific, a new report from the UN Development Programme shows.

The Kingdom has seen improvements in health, education and overall living standards since the index was first measured, the report says, though the country’s overall HDI ranking in 2015 was still 143 out of 188 countries. That spot placed Cambodia among the medium development group, along with fellow ASEAN states Laos (138) and Myanmar (145).

In the 25 years studied, Cambodia’s HDI value – a composite figure meant to represent measures such as life expectancy, education and incomes – increased by 57 percent, to 0.563. On average, however, it still lags behind the medium development group’s average HDI of 0.631, and the regional average of 0.721.

“It’s a proxy that the lives of ordinary Cambodians have improved,” Napoleon Navarro, a senior policy adviser at UNDP, said of the index’s findings. “Cambodia has a lot to be proud of, but if it wants to sustain this, it needs to consider investing in human capital and to prepare for climate change.”

In the two decades since 1995, Cambodia’s gross national income increased nearly 280 percent, life expectancy at birth increased by more than 15 years and the average years of schooling attained also doubled.

Despite this, Navarro said the slowest improvements overall have been in the education sector. While the state has increased investment in education, “ordinary Cambodians are not investing as much as the government”, he said.

“Cambodians are dropping out [of school] to work,” he said, which can seem good in the short term because it generates income, but in the long run, limits their possibilities.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Children in a school classroom in Phnom Penh. A recent Human Development report says that Cambodia seen an increased education access since 1990. Vireak Mai

Access to a diverse range of jobs is also still an issue, said Federico Barreras, a project manager at the Open Institute. “I think Cambodia would benefit from having more diversified sectors,” he said. “It would be more attractive for investors as well.”

When it comes to the gains the country has made in health, Chum Sopha, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, said the sector has seen improvement in human resources, but less so in services.

“In terms of services, they still remain unsatisfactory,” he said. Despite improvements, Cambodia still faces challenges such as reducing poverty and inequality to ensure that certain populations are not left behind.

For example, indigenous people are disadvantaged by higher-than-average poverty rates, limited access to education and health, and fewer representatives than majority groups in decision-making institutions.

“The same groups are doubly deprived because their livelihoods rely more heavily on natural resources and agriculture than those of other population groups, and the impact of climate change on their livelihoods has been high,” the report reads.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy will return at ‘favourable time’

    Opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Saturday suggested he would not return to Cambodia as he had previously promised, saying that like liberators King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle, he would only do so at a “favourable time”. “I will go back to Cambodia

  • Temi tourism project approved by the CDC

    The $500.4 million Tourism, Ecological, Marine and International (Temi) tourism project has been approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), according to a notice on its Facebook page on Monday. The project is part of Chinese-owned Union City Development Group Co Ltd’s (

  • US Embassy urged to stop ‘disrespecting sovereignty’

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called on the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations after it called former opposition leader Kem Sokha “an innocent man” – a move deemed to be “disrespecting Cambodia’s

  • NagaWorld casino sees net profit of more than $390M last year

    Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino posted a 53 per cent net profit increase last year at $390.6 million, a sum which is almost equal to the combined net profit of all Cambodian commercial banks in 2017. NagaWorld’s parent company, NagaCorp Ltd, is listed on the Hong Kong