The UN Development Programme (UNDP) hosted a high-level online discussion for the benefit of other institutions and development partners in the region regarding key lessons learned from Cambodia’s use of Covid-19 social protection measures to support the poor and revitalise the economy.

According to the UNDP’s press release on June 3, since July 2020 the Cambodian government has introduced seven stimulus measures to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19.

The measures have included cash transfers to about 700,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable households.

Samheng Boros, secretary of state for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said this was the first time in its recent history that Cambodia has implemented a social protection scheme of this magnitude and that it was motivated by the principles of equity, equality and efficiency.

He said the government had effectively used its reserve budget to provide timely assistance to those in need – especially the poor and vulnerable – by working in partnership with Cambodia’s development partners.

“Social protection is foremost an investment in people,” said Kanni Wignaraja, the UNDP regional director for the bureau of Asia and the Pacific.

“As we contend with new Covid-19 variants, we need to find ways to both limit transmission and better protect the most vulnerable,” said Wignaraja.

According to Wignaraja, social protection was essential for ensuring the well-being of those most at risk and it would also help Cambodia to successfully navigate the transition to being an upper-middle income country.

He noted that UNDP had predicted an economic contraction of -4.1 per cent with warnings that poverty could rise substantially – perhaps even doubling to 17.6 per cent in 2020 – had there not been a stimulus intervention.

However, he said, that due at least in part to these timely and responsive social protection measures the impact on poverty is projected to be less severe and economic growth should recover to a gain of around four per cent in 2021.

Wignaraja went on to say that strict lockdowns and the creation of “red zones” implemented to stem Covid-19 transmission had caused challenges for some vulnerable groups.

The need now, he said, was to ensure that these issues are immediately addressed and that future restrictions on movement are combined with protections of the rights and wellbeing of those most at risk while still being effective measures to contain the pandemic.

He pledged that UNDP and Cambodia’s other development partners would continue supporting the government to help find appropriate solutions.

Luke Arnold, deputy ambassador to the Australian embassy in Cambodia, praised the Cambodian government for providing approximately $300 million to support the poorest 700,000 households in the country and help them to weather the economic impacts of the pandemic.

He added that Australian support for these initiatives – through partners like GIZ-Cambodia and UNDP-Cambodia – has played a critical role in setting up Cambodia’s emergency cash transfer system.

“Australia will continue to support the development of a sustainable social protection system in Cambodia for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond,” he said.