TASSEL Cambodia

It ranks last among all South East Asian nations (Thailand: $5,620; Philippines $3,540; Indonesia $3,440; Vietnam $1,980, Laos $1,730). (2)

Cambodia remains as one of the poorest nations in the world.  Its 2015 GNI per capita ($1070) ranked 186 out of approximately 210 nations surveyed by the U.N. (1) 


According to an Asia Development Bank report, 46% of Cambodians are categorized as “multidimensionally poor”, meaning that they meet at least a third of these factors:

• no household member has completed 5 years of schooling

• at least one school-aged child is not enrolled

• at least one household member is malnourished

• one or more children have died

• no electricity 

• no access to clean water

• no access to sanitation

• dirt floor

• “dirty” cooking fuel (e.g., dung, firewood, or charcoal)

• no car and, at most, one of the following: bicycle, motorbike, radio, refrigerator, telephone, or television

On average, the poor are deprived of about half the above factors. (3) 


In the rural areas, where 80% of all households live (4), poverty is even more severe with an average income per capita of only $45 (5).  The majority of the people living in rural areas are subsistence farmers and two-thirds face seasonal food shortages. (6).

Furthermore, 60% of Cambodians are in debt, (7) with more than half of all of their debt being used for unproductive purposes - primarily for food consumption, medical expenses, religious ceremonies, and servicing existing debt.  (8) 22% of Cambodians are insolvent. (9)



38% of children are left in inadequate care (10)

40% of children under age 5 are stunted . (11)

57% of under 5 children in the bottom 20% income bracket are stunted (12)

82% of the population have no access to piped water (13)

81% in rural Cambodia and 69% nationwide have no electricity (14)

78% in rural Cambodia and 67% nationwide do not have improved latrines(15)


With malnutrition, poor hygiene,  and limited access to medical care, the health of children in particular is poor. In a survey conducted by the Cambodian Department of Health in 2010, 28% of children had fever in the two weeks preceding the survey, and 15% had diarrhea. (16)

Only 3.7% of the population has a bank account and only 1% actually have savings in the account, by far the lowest in the region.  In neighboring countries, the percentages are 98% (Singapore); 72% (Thailand), 66% (Malaysia), 27% (Laos), 21% (Vietnam).


In 2012, Cambodia ranked 141 out of 143 countries in a survey where respondents rated the quality of their current lives. This was even worse than the 2011 survey where Cambodia was ranked 133 out of 146 countries. The percentage of Cambodians responding that they were “suffering”in 2012 was 34%; 63% responded they were “struggling” and only 3% responded that they were thriving.    As a comparison to their neighbors, 2% of Thais, 4% of Singaporeans, 7% of Laotians, and 9% of Vietnamese considered they were “suffering” (18).


Extreme poverty is undoubtedly a major contributor to Cambodians rating their quality of life at near bottom among all countries surveyed.  However, what also contributes to their low quality of life is the psychological trauma they have endured due to the Khmer Rouge-led genocide. During the Khmer Rouge era, families were forcefully separated and segregated by generation into camps.  Children were encouraged by the state to identify with the state of Angkor, reject their families, and inform on their parents. Such an insidious scheme, in addition to brutal murder, widespread malnutrition and devastating disease, has caused unthinkable psychological trauma on the survivors.

In a 2004 survey of 1,320 Cambodians, 42.4% reported symptoms that met the criteria for depression and 53% displayed high anxiety symptoms. (19)  In a more recent survey, 11% of the total population was suggested to have “probable PTSD”.  (20)

What is alarming is that in several of these studies, mental disorders were high in populations that were born well after the Khmer Rouge era. It has been difficult for Cambodia to rebuild itself socially, as the Khmer Rouge has murdered a majority of leaders in politics, law, medicine, education, religion and the military. Following the Khmer Rouge, famine, poverty, political instability, government abuse and constant threat of violence have had a profound psychological impact on not only those who survived the regime but also the youth born after Pol Pot's reign ended.

The stress that Cambodians of all generations must endure daily as a result of poverty, including witnessing deaths and sicknesses of family members, abandonment (by parents and children) widespread corruption, lack of access to education and medical resources, is arguably more debilitating than physical poverty.  In addition, there are psychology theories which suggest that PTSD and other psychological scars are inter-generationally transmitted: i.e. parents with mental disabilities or psychological trauma can pass on their scars to their children as they are often incapable of consistently providing the love and care children need. 




  1. United Nations database, updated July 22, 2016

  2. ibid

  3. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014.  Factored calculation

  4. UNICEF Information by Country, 2012

  5. CDRI, Levels and Sources of Household Income in Rural Cambodia 2012

  6. International Fund for Agricultural Development Portal

  7. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014 

  8. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014

  9. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014

  10. UNICEF Information by Country, 2011 data

  11. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014 

  12. UNICEF Information by Country, 2011 data

  13. World Bank, Cambodia Overview, April 2016 update

  14. World Bank, Sustainable Energy for all ( SE4ALL ) database from World Bank, Global Electrification Database. 2012 data

  15. UNICEF Information by Country, 2011 data

  16. World Health Organization Country Profile, 2016

  17. Cambodia Daily, Nov. 12, 2013

  18. Asia Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis 2014

  19. V. Dubois et al. Household Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in Cambodia, 2004

  20. Jeffrey Sonis, MD, MPH; James L. Gibson, PhD; Joop T. V. M. de Jong, MD, PhD; Nigel P. Field, PhD; Sokhom Hean, PhD; Ivan Komproe, PhD, Probable Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Disability in CambodiaAssociations With Perceived Justice, Desire for Revenge, and Attitudes Toward the Khmer Rouge Trials



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