Country Information

Cambodia -

The Kingdom of Cambodia, the capital of which is Phnom Penh, has an area of 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 sq mi) and a population of over 14 million people. A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as "Cambodian" or "Khmer", although the latter strictly refers to ethnic Khmers. The country's minority peoples include Muslims, Cham, ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and various hill tribes. Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, which is practiced by around 96% of the population.  Its government is a constitutional monarchy operated as a parliamentary representative democracy headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The country’s main parties are the Cambodian People's Party (the country’s major ruling party) and the Cambodia Rescue Party. The current King is King Norodom Sihamoni who succeeded his father Norodom Sihanouk in 2004.

Cambodia's modern-day culture has its roots in the 1st – 6th centuries in a state referred to as Funan and Cambodia’s language evolved from this period.   Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day South East Asia, from the borders of Myanmar East to the South China Sea and north to Laos.  It was during this period that the Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world, the Angkor temple complex which covers an area of 400 square kilometres in the province of Siem Reap.

The 15th-17th centuries represented a time of foreign influence, when expansionist Siam and Vietnam fought over Cambodia. By the mid-1800s, Cambodia, like most other countries in Asia, came under increasing pressure from European colonial powers. In 1863, King Norodom signed a Protectorate Treaty with France.  In 1945, the Japanese briefly ousted the French.  Encouraged, King Sihanouk campaigned until 1953 when he won independence for Cambodia.   Throughout the 1950s and 60s Cambodia was self-sufficient and prospered in many areas.  However, the quagmire of growing war in Vietnam spread relentlessly, and in 1970, as war spilled over into Cambodia Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol.

On 17th April 1975, Lon Nol's weak government was itself overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. As soon as they had taken control of the country the forces of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot sought to implement a radical restructuring programme aimed at transforming Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated agrarian co-operative. The calendar was reset at 'Year Zero'; currency was abolished; all links with the outside world were cut; and the entire population of Phnom Penh and the provincial towns was evacuated to the countryside to work in the fields. Over the next four years it is estimated that over 1.5 million people lost their lives, including most of the country's skilled and educated citizens, and even after the overthrowing of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese in 1978-9 a further 10 years of intermittent civil war was to follow, serving only to prolong the social, economic and infrastructural devastation.

Following the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia in 1989, talks were convened by the French government with the aim of resolving political differences within the country. The Paris Peace Accord which followed in 1991 led to the establishment of the State of Cambodia. A UN force known as the United Nations Transitional Authority Commission (UNTAC) was subsequently established and in May 1993, supported by the presence of some 22,000 UN troops, a general election was held. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Funcinpec entered into a power-sharing arrangement under their respective leaders, Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh, but the new government was fraught with problems, leading eventually to the upheaval in 1997 in which Funcinpec was ousted from government. Since the general election of 1998, Hun Sen has held the post of Prime Minister. 
In April 1999 Cambodia became a full member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and more recently in 2004; Cambodia acceded to the World Trade Organisation, becoming one of the least developed nations to join its ranks.

Cambodia is now a peaceful and stable country. Its economy is driven by agriculture, garment industry, foreign direct investment especially in construction, and tourism. Its major exports are rice, fish, timber, garments and rubber. Cambodia has seen substantial socioeconomic progress in recent years, accompanied by improvements in many development indicators.  The garment industry represents the largest portion of Cambodia's manufacturing sector, accounting for 80% of the country's exports. In 2012, the exports grew to $4.61 billion up 8% over 2011. In the first half of 2013, the garment industry reported exports worth $1.56 billion. The sector employs 335,400 workers, of which 91% are female. The tourism industry is the country's second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry. In 2014 an estimated 3 million tourists visited in Cambodia.

Despite these achievements, Cambodia is still one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 124 out of 169 countries on the UN Human Development Index.  There is still much to do for Cambodia to fully recover from the impacts of decades of conflicts which left the country severely impoverished, with a significant depletion of skilled, educated professionals.  Cambodia’s population today is amongst the poorest in the region (35% of the population lives below the national poverty line - rural US$ 0.46 and urban poverty US$ 0.63 (in 2006).  It lacks infrastructures, has some of the worst level of education and child mortality in the region.  The inequality between the multi-dimensional poor has increased.  Agriculture, mainly rice production which accounts for 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs more than 70% of the population is subject to annual flooding and drought which results in year-to-year fluctuations in agricultural production.

The province of Siem Reap (where Lotus is involved with two community projects) is one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. Paradoxically, the region is also home to the World Heritage site of Angkor and the flourishing city of Siem Reap. The Tourism led economic growth has however not yet reaching the rural population.  At this stage rural communities still lack infrastructures, resources and knowledge to take advantage of the rising opportunities.    In the province’s rural areas, poor subsistence farmers face challenges such as, unfertile soil, frequent flooding and drought - the situation is worsening as a result of Global Warming, poor/lack of irrigation systems and infrastructure, heavy reliance on rice cultivation - only 1 rice harvest per year in this region, lack of modern agricultural skills and low education level, remoteness from markets and services.