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Warning over maps as guide to poverty reduction

Warning over maps as guide to poverty reduction

The government's poverty reduction body has released maps that identify those areas

of the country most affected by poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and natural

disasters.

But data specialists have warned of potentially disastrous results in the drive to

combat widespread poverty if the maps are relied on as the sole indicator. Thirty-six

percent of the population is estimated to live on less than 2,000 riel a day, the

official poverty rate.

The General Secretariat of the Council for Social Development (GS-CSD) drew up the

maps with help from the UN's World Food Programme. The maps are meant to help the

government, NGOs and donors target the most vulnerable areas of the country, and

will be worked into the government's poverty reduction plan.

The government's key anti-poverty strategist Kim Say-samalen said at an April 9 workshop

the maps would help policymakers plan their interventions.

"To reduce poverty in Cambodia, massive financial resources are required while

the current revenue and development resources are scarce," said Saysamalen,

who heads the GS-CSD. "[The maps] are very useful for policymakers and planners

to deliver scarce resources to the most needy population and areas."

But Claude Katz, a data analyst specialist with the UN Development Program, advised

caution: Although the maps were good step forward there was a danger policymakers

would base their plans on the maps alone without taking other data into account.

"Poverty is a highly multi-dimensional issue, [which] is impossible to summarize

in one map," she said. "I'm very afraid. It is a high-quality product,

and because it is a high quality product, people believe it. This is the problem

of mapping."

Katz said the data was primarily gleaned from the 1998 census and the 1999 socio-economic

survey. Policymakers needed to understand that research represented the situation

five years ago.

Katz questioned some of the findings of the maps. While the nutrition map showed

that vast swaths of Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri suffered some of the highest instances

of malnutrition, a different map indicated that these two provinces suffered very

little poverty. "Mondolkiri appears as a well-off province. If policymakers

look at this and ignore Mondolkiri, it would be a disaster."

Saysamalen said the maps showed areas where people live below the poverty line, and

did not indicate rich and poor provinces. They would be updated in 2003-4.

"We used all the available information. Right now the map is appropriate. [Policymakers]

should be careful with their intervention."

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