Situation and cooperation

A woman learning to weave in the Women's Development Centre in Siem Reap. The centre provides among other aspects training for women to set up their own businesses.

After the civil war came to an end in the 1990s, almost every area of Cambodian society needed to be rebuilt. Government institutions had been smashed, the infrastructure was in ruins and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country had been murdered or driven into exile. Decades of conflict had left the population impoverished, poorly educated and extremely underserved as regards health care.

Given this backdrop, the achievements that have been made since then are all the more remarkable. Cambodia has been achieving high rates of economic growth, efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality, tackle HIV and AIDS, and clear landmines have been crowned with success.

In 2003, half the population was still living below the national poverty line, but by 2016, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the national census, that figure had fallen to just 13.5 per cent. There is, however, still a risk for many people that they will slip back into poverty.

The health system and public infrastructure are still being developed. About 75 per cent of the population now has guaranteed access to clean drinking water (2000: 42 per cent) and about 42 per cent have proper sanitation (2000: 16 per cent). The education system also still needs to be improved further.

In the most recent Human Development Index (HDI) Cambodia is ranked 146th out of 189 countries, making it one of the least developed countries in the world. However, the government has set itself ambitious goals for development and growth with its Rectangular Strategy, Phase III. The plan is for Cambodia to attain the status of an upper-middle-income country by 2030.


Using finger prints to confirm land ownership in a project geared towards land reform.

Cambodia has a constitutional monarchy and a democratic multi-party system. The parliamentary elections in 2013 were followed by massive disputes. In 2014, the government and the opposition began a constructive dialogue about necessary political reforms. Since then, however, the political climate has once again deteriorated to a marked degree. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) actively obstructs the work of politicians critical of the government, and uses legislative, administrative and judicial powers to put pressure on its political opponents and independent media. A law passed in the summer of 2015 covering associations and non-governmental organisations makes it possible for the government to control the work of civil society even more closely and curtail these activities. All in all, the country is still far from achieving international democratic standards.

Corruption is widespread and is traditionally hardly questioned in Cambodian society. On the Corruption Perceptions Index published in 2015 by the non-governmental organisation Transparency International, Cambodia ranks 150th out of the 168 countries indexed.

Human rights

Members of a fishing community on the Mekong River, Cambodia

The human rights situation in Cambodia has worsened significantly in recent years. There are considerable curbs on freedom of opinion, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. There are repeated instances of undesirables, such as homeless people, street children, prostitutes and people with disabilities being arbitrarily arrested.

Although the constitution accords them equality, women suffer discrimination, especially with regard to access to justice, land and the labour market. Violence against women is widespread.

Since 2000, more than half a million people have had their land expropriated and have been forcibly resettled as a consequence of land concessions awarded to national and foreign companies. The inhabitants of informal settlements in towns and cities, small farmers and indigenous peoples are particularly affected by this issue. So far only a few indigenous communities have been able to obtain communal land titles. Many of the areas to which people have been forcibly resettled have no access to water, sanitation or health services and there is a lack of income-earning opportunities.

Economic prospects

Vegetable stand at the Kandal market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia’s regional integration has moved forward as a result of accession to international organisations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, 1998) and the World Trade Organization (WTO, 2004), which have ended the country’s economic isolation.

In recent years Cambodia has experienced high levels of economic growth of about seven per cent. The most important economic sectors are agriculture, textiles and shoe production, the construction industry and tourism. Agriculture has been declining in terms of importance since the start of the 1990s so that it now accounts for just 30 per cent of gross domestic product. Meanwhile, the services sector now accounts for more than 40 per cent of economic activity.

Cambodia has a young population: half of all Cambodians are under 25 years of age. Unemployment and under-employment are already key problems for Cambodia’s economic development and population growth is threatening to make these problems even worse.

There are also still shortcomings in the field of environmental protection. Approval is granted for dam projects on the Mekong River and concessions are awarded for large-scale logging activities, without any consideration being given to the sometimes serious damage being caused to the environment. Satellite pictures from the data portal Open Development Cambodia have shown that in 2014 about 48 per cent of the country was covered by forest. This is compared to 66 per cent forest cover back in 2000.

Priority areas of cooperation

At the German-Cambodian government negotiations held in December 2015, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) made a new commitment of 36.74 million euros. Of this, 22.1 million euros was allocated to and 14.64 million euros to Financial cooperation and 14.64 million euros to Technical cooperation. Development cooperation with Cambodia currently focuses on the following priority areas:

  • Rural development
  • Health

'Democracy, civil society, public administration and good governance' is a cross-cutting theme, meaning that these issues are addressed in all ongoing programmes.

Cambodia is also included in various projects involving several countries that are being carried out as part of German development cooperation in the region. The areas covered in these projects include food security, water management along the Mekong River, economic integration within the framework of ASEAN, and the introduction of labour and social standards in the textiles and garment industry. Furthermore, Cambodia is the only other Asian country apart from India that is benefiting from activities under the special initiative 'One World – No Hunger'.

Special issue – The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Muslim women in the village of Svay Khleang read a book about the Khmer Rouge war crimes court prepared by the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

It is important for Cambodia’s further development that the country should deal with the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. The BMZ is therefore supporting the ECCC, which is composed of both international and Cambodian judges. The ECCC, or Khmer Rouge Tribunal is the first international criminal court with victim participation, so that the survivors are not limited to appearing as witnesses and have the right to be actively involved in the proceedings as joint plaintiffs. The first defendants have meanwhile been sentenced to life imprisonment and other leading figures in the Khmer Rouge are under investigation.

Through the BMZ and the Federal Foreign Office, the German government has so far provided about 17 million euros for the work of the ECCC, as well as accompanying measures for reconciliation and justice. In addition, the BMZ is supporting the ECCC through the long-term secondment of a legal adviser to the judicial chambers of the court.

The Civil Peace Service (CPS) is making an important contribution towards reconciliation and dialogue across the whole of Cambodian society. The CPS is assisting with the work of cataloguing the crimes committed and bringing the perpetrators to justice. For the victims of the crimes the CPS is able to offer legal counselling and psychological support.

Rural development

A market building in Trey Veng, Cambodia, that was built with German support

In Cambodia, 80 per cent of the population lives in the country. Although poverty has been significantly reduced in recent years, poverty levels are still above average in rural areas.

The Rural Development programme being carried out as part of German development cooperation with Cambodia is concerned with promoting the sustainable development of the rural economy and is helping to increase the incomes of poor people living in the country. It comprises five areas of action:

  1. Promoting value chains
  2. Measures to increase agricultural productivity and production
  3. Training local self-governing bodies tasked with promoting economic development and reducing poverty
  4. Promoting dialogue and cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and civil society, especially with a view to boosting economic development in rural areas
  5. Investments in rural infrastructure (including improving energy supply)

So far, about one million households in the provinces of Siem Reap, Banteay Meanschey and Oddar Meanchey have been reached through this programme. Their income has increased by more than 50 per cent in some cases. With German support, 2,100 kilometres of rural roads, 72 bridges, 10 regional markets and 48 school buildings have been newly built or repaired. Attention has been paid here to using climate-resilient building methods. This means, above all, that the construction work can survive serious flooding. Thanks to improved infrastructure, transport costs have fallen significantly.


A child being weighed at the Babonc Health Centre, Prey Veng, as part of the EPOS monitoring programme.

The Cambodian health system has continuously improved since the 1990s. In 2015, the country had achieved all the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the high level of infant mortality and the inadequate food situation for children, pregnant women and young mothers continue to be a cause for concern.

Germany has been providing support for the Cambodian health sector since 1995. Through Technical Cooperation the government is receiving advice on introducing various mechanisms for social protection in the event of illness and bundling them together to create a single system. Germany is also helping, among other things, to ensure that the assistance provided from state health funds, which was limited until now to poor households, is expanded to cover population groups threatened by poverty and others in need.

Furthermore, GIZ is supporting the efforts of Cambodian partners to introduce clinical standards, train health staff, set up an accreditation system for private and public health services, and help patients become better informed about their rights.

In an accompanying measure, KfW Entwicklungsbank is financing a government voucher programme. Needy and poor women can get access to professional assistance during pregnancy and birth, and advice on family planning.

Together with other donors, KfW is also involved in a basket financing arrangement for the Cambodian health reform programme. The funds in question are meant to enable the state health system to provide not just reproductive health services in future, but also a more comprehensive range of prevention services and medical treatment for all sections of the population.

Good governance: Promoting democracy, civil society and public administration

Promoting democracy, civil society and public administration is a cross-cutting task within German development cooperation with Cambodia.

The overall goal is to help reduce poverty and establish equitable social structures. To this end, efforts are directed towards anchoring the principles of democracy in Cambodian society and improving the opportunities for civil society involvement. The support provided by the BMZ focuses on three fields of action:

  • Decentralisation and administrative reform,
  • Access to justice for women, and
  • Identifying poor households.

Identifying poor households

IDPoor, short for „Identification of poor households in Cambodia“, directly improves the lives of over three million poor through a standardised participatory process that German Development Cooperation helped develop and implement since its inception. This 5-minute video shows how the programme works.

To learn more about IDPoor visit:

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Vocational training in Asia – Becoming a stone conservationist in Angkor Wat, Cambodia


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Sustainable supply chains create more income for farmers and traders in rural Cambodia

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