HOW IT BEGAN
American economic aid to Cambodia began in 1950 as part of an overall assistance program to French Indochina, which also included Laos and Vietnam, to bolster the Cambodian economy and help it recover from the aftermath of the region’s wars for independence.
These US assistance activities were brought together under what became the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on November 3, 1961. Over the decades, USAID has helped increase agricultural productivity, build democratic institutions, improve education, and improve health care services and health facilities in Cambodia. With the addition of climate change and natural resource management programs, these remain the core sectors of work for USAID’s mission in Cambodia today.
A NEW BEGINNING
Political tension and conflict forced a hiatus in US-Cambodian relations from 1965 until 1971, and again in 1975. In the 1980s, US assistance was confined to refugee camps along the Thai border catering to Cambodians who had escaped the long conflict in their country. That changed in 1990, when the US Congress announced that it would end economic sanctions and allow aid into Cambodia for the first time in 15 years. On November 11, 1991, the United States opened a liaison office in Phnom Penh, and, in early 1993, USAID opened a permanent office in Cambodia, officially an Office of the AID Representative. In 1994, the Agency established a bilateral program, and by 1996, it had upgraded its presence in Cambodia to a full-scale mission.
Since USAID reopened its office in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, the agency has worked closely with Cambodia to reduce poverty and improve lives throughout the country. With investments totalling over $1 billion, much has been achieved in relatively little time. Here are a few highlights:
• Horticulture incomes and rural business sales have dramatically increased. For instance, in the past year, horticulture incomes rose by an average of 250 per cent and rural sales increased by $3.4 million.
• Cambodia’s forest communities are being provided with the tools and education to protect the country’s precious forests while also benefiting from them in sustainable ways.
• The completion rate for students over the four years of USAID’s basic education improvement program ending this year was double the national average.
• As a lead donor in health, USAID has contributed to halving the number of deaths of mothers and more than halving deaths of children under five since 2000.
• Since 1998, USAID has helped cut Cambodia’s HIV prevalence rate by nearly a half.
• Support for new technologies, like mobile phone networks, created a voice-operated election information system that logged over 600,000 calls during the 2013 elections.
• USAID’s anti-trafficking programs have provided Cambodia’s youth with the information and knowledge to protect themselves from sex and labour traffickers. Anti-trafficking programs include legal aid services for trafficking survivors.
Cambodia has made incredible gains in a very short time. Between 2004 and 2011, for example, its poverty rate was cut in half. Its population is healthier, smarter, and more involved in every aspect of the country’s development. The economy is growing. To make sure these gains continue to grow, USAID is working closely with government, non-governmental organisations, and Cambodia’s vibrant private sector to help businesses grow and innovation thrive.
USAID will continue to help improve health care in Cambodia. It will also help farmers and rural businesses improve yields and incomes. It will continue to support a stronger civil society that advocates for good governance and respect for human rights and protects the most vulnerable members of society. As it looks to the future, USAID will expand its partnerships and networks to nurture the innovation and capacity that will help Cambodia be the independent driver of its own development.