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UNICEF in Cambodia

UNICEF in Cambodia
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Andy Brown
A young girl uses a UNICEF-supplied water container at a school in Prey Veng Province

UNICEF is an agency of the United Nations which works in Cambodia to promote and protect the rights of children. In partnership with government, civil society, NGOs and development partners, the current UNICEF country programme, 2011-2015, seeks to ensure that all children in Cambodia have a healthy, clean and protective environment in which to thrive and reach their full potential.

The country is one of contrasts, with the nation’s rise and fall epitomized by its twin tourist attractions: the famed, centuries-old Angkor Wat temples and the Killing Fields, which have come to symbolize a period in which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979. Since then, the country has taken significant steps in rebuilding, with a population now pushing past 13 million people, a majority of whom live in rural areas.

Pagodas that serve the nation’s largely Buddhist population dot the landscape, with golden spires rising above mostly flat, arable land fringed by tropical mountain ranges that curtain off Cambodia from its neighbours.  The Tonle Sap Lake is Cambodia’s beating heart, splicing down the centre of the country with an intricate system of tributaries that supplies much-needed irrigation and nutrients to rice paddies and farm fields.

More than three decades after war and genocide devastated this small Southeast Asian nation, Cambodia sits at a critical crossroads of change and opportunity. Progress is propelling the country toward a new era of unprecedented prosperity. Record economic growth and development in the past decade helped launch the country onto the international marketplace while raising the standard of living among many Cambodians. Poverty has declined from 47 per cent of the population in 2003 to 30 per cent in 2007. And political and social stability have secured a measure of calm since the nation’s first democratic elections in 1993.

However, while new economic opportunities have improved the lives of many - urban Cambodians, in particular - it has also increased inequalities. An entire segment of society has been lost in the slipstream of success as overall national progress contrasts with basic needs: roughly one of every two Cambodians has access to safe drinking water while less than one of four has access to a toilet. Key data on women and children reveal alarming social disparities between children who live in rural and urban areas in terms of access to basic health services, education, clean water and sanitation, and protective services. Persistent poverty for rural residents remains a vexing national dilemma, with a majority of the population teetering at the edge of the national poverty line. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 has only compounded the daily adversity many women and children face, undercutting overall gains for the nation.

Current challenges affecting women and children remain alleviating poverty, reducing maternal, infant and child deaths, achieving education for all and strengthening protection for children.

UNICEF works closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia to address these challenges and disparities with the goal of ensuring a just society for all children.


History of UNICEF in Cambodia

UNICEF first began working in Cambodia in 1952 and opened its first country office in 1973 at the height of the country’s civil war. At the time, UNICEF's key mandate was providing humanitarian relief to children fleeing the country's civil war. The organization was one of many international agencies expelled from the country in 1975, when Cambodia came under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the period that followed, between 1975 and 1979, when war and genocide gripped the nation. UNICEF was among the first organizations to return at the end of the war to provide emergency aid.

During the Khmer Rouge period, widespread famine left a majority of the population starved and extremist policies resulted in the complete destruction of schools and pagodas. Hospitals and health centres were damaged and left inoperable after years of neglect. UNICEF prioritized upgrading health facilities with a focus on access to clean water, providing immunizations and distributing school supplies so children could return to school.

In the mid-1980s, UNICEF evolved into a development organization, shifting its focus from emergency to nation-building. The organization launched a rural water supply project and expanded its immunization programme, especially to remote areas.

As Cambodia transitioned out of conflict toward stability with the first democratic elections held in 1993, UNICEF continued to build on its strong cooperation with the Government to improve the lives of women and children.





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