Stone figure in the temple Ta Prohm near Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Cambodia A new start after decades of violence

In recent years, Cambodia’s history has been marked by war, civil war and extreme human suffering. During the Viet Nam War, the country was the target of a bombing campaign aimed at destroying the other side’s bases and supply lines. After that, from 1975 to 1979, about 1.7 million people fell victim to the reign of terror presided over by the Khmer Rouge. Practically the entire Cambodian intellectual elite was murdered and the country’s infrastructure was totally destroyed.

In 1979, Viet Nam occupied Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge launched a guerrilla war. It was not until 1993 that free elections once more took place. In actual fact the decades-long civil war only ended in early 1999, after the last of the Khmer Rouge fighters surrendered.

In recent years, Cambodia has achieved remarkable development results. However, in order to safeguard these achievements in the long term, the government needs to introduce and follow through on a range of political reforms. Areas where particular challenges lie ahead are democracy, the division of powers and the rule of law, human rights, public administration, the justice system, the financial system and tackling the widespread problem of corruption.

Development cooperation

Germany is supporting Cambodia as the country goes through a process of development and democratisation. The main themes of this cooperation are regional economic development, developing the health sector, and promoting democracy, civil society and public administration. Furthermore, the German government is supporting the work of the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, which has the task of providing justice for the victims of the genocide.

A tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Considerable governance shortcomings Internal link

Since 1993, Cambodia has had a constitutional monarchy and a democratic multi-party system. The political climate had deteriorated in the run-up to the parliamentary elections held in 2018, but now scope is re-emerging for civil society activity.

Central market in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia

Substantial development achievements Internal link

After the civil war came to an end in the 1990s, a new start was needed in almost every area of Cambodian society. Government institutions had been smashed, the infrastructure was in ruins and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country had been murdered or driven abroad.

Car ferry on the Mekong river, Cambodia

Stable growth, loss of biodiversity Internal link

Accession to international organisations such as the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN (1998), and the World Trade Organization (WTO, 2004) put an end to Cambodia’s economic isolation.

German development cooperation with Cambodia

The priority areas of Germany’s activities in Cambodia are regional economic development, strengthening the health system and decentralisation.

The priority area programme for regional economic development has been instrumental in improving the living conditions of about one million households in rural areas: incomes have been increased by more than 50 per cent; transport costs have been reduced by 40 per cent; more than 2,500 kilometres of roads have been repaired and adapted to the consequences of climate change so that they can still be used when flooding occurs.

The priority area programme for health has improved access to good medical care. Maternal and infant mortality has fallen by more than two thirds. Almost 90 per cent of all births are now attended by qualified health personnel (in 2000 it was only 32 per cent). Poor people now have free access to health services, thanks also to German support. The establishment and expansion of health insurance for all is progressing.

The priority area programme for decentralisation is strengthening districts and municipalities in their work. A one-window office system has been established for all administrative matters at the local authority level. Tables showing the administrative fees to be charged for public services in the district offices mean that citizens know the official price for these transactions.

Furthermore, Germany is supporting the work of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal with reconciliation projects. Mine clearance activities are also being supported.

Several regional projects complete the range of development cooperation activities in which the German government is engaged in Cambodia. For example, German support has helped improve working and social conditions in factories.

In 2017 and 2018, Germany spent about 37 million euros in development funding on improving living conditions in Cambodia.

A woman learns to operate a loom.

Promoting the local economy Internal link

Around three quarters of Cambodians live in the countryside. Although poverty has been significantly reduced in recent years, poverty levels are still above average in rural areas.

Mothers and children participating in a growth study are waiting in a waiting room in Prey Veng, Cambodia.

Ensuring health care for poor people Internal link

The Cambodian health system has continuously improved since the 1990s. Despite clear progress, however, the relatively high number of deaths among mothers and newborn babies still occurring in Cambodia compared with other countries is cause for concern.

Motorcycle on a road in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Fostering decentralisation Internal link

Good governance is one of the most important prerequisites for sustainable development and successful poverty reduction in Cambodia. Germany is advising its Cambodian partners on decentralisation and on reforming public administration.