Cambodia's indigenous groups populate much more of the country than was previously known, but many are also at risk of disappearing, according to yet-to-be-published research.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior had previously identified 445 indigenous villages countrywide. But new research by the Cambodian Indigenous People Organization (CIPO) shows there are at least 573 indigenous villages in Cambodia, with that number expected to expand to 632 as further research is conducted.
Indigenous villages are spread out across 15 of Cambodia’s provinces, and while previous censuses identified 18 ethnic groups among Cambodia’s indigenous populations, CIPO claims to have identified 24.
The NGO’s researchers are now urging the government to begin collecting accurate data on the country’s indigenous populations, especially as some of them risk disappearing over the next several generations.
“Information is needed in order to design any support for indigenous people’s development, such as in education, health and support for maternal care and birth rates,” said CIPO director Yun Mane.
In order for the official data to be verified and updated, the Ministry of Planning, which oversees the census, should seek support from the UN Population Fund and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, the two main donors for the 2018 edition, she added.
Currently, five indigenous groups – the Saoch, Khe, Spong, Loeun and Samre – are most at risk of disappearing, according to CIPO’s research. The groups are found primarily in Preah Vihear, Preah Sihanouk, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng.
“I think is it absolutely critical to save these groups,” Mane said. “And to document their community profile and history so they can build community pride and solidarity.”
Without services and support from the government, the country could lose an array of languages, belief systems and traditional food, dance and cultivation practices, Mane noted.
Ali Al-Nisani, country director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, agreed Cambodia’s government needs to get serious about the issue before the world loses an important piece of cultural heritage.
“We have to understand that indigenous people are part of Cambodia’s national heritage. They are protected by international and Cambodian laws, and these laws need proper implementation,” Al-Nisani said. “The fact that . . . there are far more indigenous villages than officially registered clearly indicates more exact data is needed.”
The Ministry of Planning could not be reached yesterday.