Poverty and Climate Change in Cambodia

Battambang City
Battambang City

Raining again.

It rains in Phnom Penh today. Yesterday, it was also raining, and tomorrow, it will be raining as forecasted.

We are supposed to welcome the dry season here in Phnom Penh. But now you see it has been raining all days recently. The tone of this raining actually sounds different from that in the rainy season, but it still rains anyway. Talking to my Cambodian colleagues in my office, all of them speak up a recent very popular term of Climate Change to describe such strange weather. Rain in Cambodia used to stop in October, but this year, it last until November. Again, it started raining in December, which was the dry season.

“Oh it’s raining again.”

In another day, it was boiling. The sun was rising above my head in the clear sky and let all its energy go and burn my bear skins. Is it also because of climate change?

To be honest, I have been very much sceptical about climate change and suspected that it just happened because of the cycle of the earth in long term but not toxic gas or other specific global warming gas.

However, now, I have to say that it happens here anyway. It does not matter the reason. I am not a diplomat or politician to bring this issue on a big table. The important thing is the fact that climate is changing and might affect people living here.

The father of us, IDS colleagues, Robert Chambers often told us, “Listen to the locals. Learn from them. They are not stupid.” Now I follow his rule. Listen to the locals. You see the locals say climate change takes place in Cambodia.

As even people in Phnom Penh come from the rural areas, we can listen to their sense of climate. One of my colleagues told me, “If it starts raining in the early morning and stops before you wake up, that’s the sign of ending rainy seasons.” However, even his knowledge and experience as a Cambodian

local could not predict the weather this year. So climate change is happening in Cambodia now.

Thinking about poverty, what might happen to the poor Cambodian when climate change hit their village. Draught? Harvest failure? Epidemics? These might cause another problems? Stop sending children to school for work? Chronic illness or injuries of children? Long-term deprivation of them? Such a lot of risks and vulnerability could be considered.

If these people could cope with such risks well, are these problems? Maybe not. But if they could not deal with them, it might cause serious impacts on their economy and entire life.

In fact, 92% of the poor Cambodian people live in rural areas. Also, 89% of the poorest engage in agriculture to make a live. If one look at this statistics, it would be clear that the poor populations concentrate in the most vulnerable industry, agriculture, to climate change. Their life quite depends upon the weather every day, every season and every year.

Moreover, most of the poor are substance farmers, who cultivate their land to grow crops or plants only for their family but not for sale. This makes them more vulnerable because they have very limited cash or savings which would be used to cope with unpredictable shocks like flood or any other natural disasters. In other words, poverty itself sufficiently indicates vulnerability, and as increasing its severity, vulnerability also becomes more serious.

Thus, from these poverty points of view, climate change is becoming a more and more important subject in Cambodia. In fact, particular interventions such as social safety nets etc. are now being prepared by the Royal Government of Cambodia and various Development Partners.

Knowles, J. (2009) Poverty profile and trends in Cambodia. World Bank

Comments are closed.