The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted the lives of thousands of workers across various sectors including tourism, manufacturing, and construction in Cambodia. With a dramatic decrease in Cambodia’s GDP growth, low-income workers across the country have been struggling with job losses and income cuts.
With no source of income, surging prices of essential goods and services are hurting low-income families, informal workers, and unemployed people among other pandemic-hit sections of society. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected Cambodia’s inflation growth to reach around 3.1 percent in 2021 following which it is expected to come down 2.8 percent in 2022.
Taking note of the situation, the Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian government to urgently address the economic and social repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income households.
“Millions of Cambodians are going hungry and fear losing their homes during the pandemic because there is no government social protection system,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, in the report.
While the government launched an emergency social assistance program in May 2021 to provide one-time cash transfers to low-income families and other groups hard-hit by strict lockdowns, the HRW urged the authorities to expand the initiative to protect people’s rights to a basic standard of living. It called on the Cambodian government to set up a social protection system with the aim of ensuring timely provision of social benefits to all those in need with the aim of protecting their rights and facilitate an equitable recovery in the country.
According to research carried out by the human rights watchdog, the Cambodian government’s food aid issued during lockdowns was chaotic and relief packages were insufficient in high-risk “red zone” areas across the country. Families interviewed by the HRW revealed that each family received only one food package and they were not enough to sustain their large households.
The government lifted strict restrictions by the end of May, resulting in thousands of people left without food and essential supplies. Experts point out that many low-income residents were pushed to a breaking point during the lockdown as they took to social media for emergency assistance.
According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), poverty has almost doubled in the country in the aftermath of COVID-19, increasing to 17.6 percent of the total population.
“In the last six months, households have increasingly adopted coping strategies to access food including reducing food intake, relying on cheaper options, and borrowing,” the UNDP said in its April 2021 report. Amid deteriorating circumstances, the HRW has urged international financial institutions, the United Nations, and world governments to coordinate efforts with the Cambodian government to provide financial assistance and crucial COVID-19 emergency funds to people in need.