Poverty and Vulnerability in Cambodia

Sleeping Moto Driver in Phnom Penh (Photographed in 2009 by Ippei Tsuruga)
Sleeping Moto Driver in Phnom Penh (Photographed in 2009 by Ippei Tsuruga)

As the same as other days, I left my work place at the time when the sky of Cambodia became burning to get orange to dark. I did not use the lift to downstairs. Instead, walking down to the ground floor had become part of my daily habit and exercise. Following this habit, I came down to call my Moto driver (‘Moto’ is a Cambodian way of saying ‘Moterbike taxi’), who I favoured, or (in another way) whose patron I was. Anyway, taking Moto to go home was also part of my life here in Phnom Penh.

However, I found something was different then. My driver was walking to me like a marionette. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He answered, ‘I got injured’.
Although not being able fully to understand what he said in Khmer, I roughly got his point. He went into crush while riding his Moto. His right leg looked obviously broken with a fist size of huge bump. But he kept working for the following days until disappeared. Now I have no idea where he is.

I learn something about poverty from his case. Vulnerability is likely to exist in Phnom Penh even though poverty here is officially almost none (the poverty rate in Phnom Penh was reported at 1% in 2007). Once people accidentally get injured or ill, they might fall into poverty even if they were not poor. In fact, my Moto driver did not go to see a doctor and kept working to earn money.

I guess it is because he was a breadwinner of his family and was required to work to sustain their livelihoods and could not also afford to pay for surgery or medicine. His daily earnings were maybe around US$ 5 – 15. If he had stayed home or at the hospital, he would have been needed to pay much more than that every day. Moreover, he would have had to pay his opportunity costs not to work. He would not earn money but spend more money every day.
“How could he feed his family?”

From the lesson learnt from his case, I would say reducing vulnerability and potential risks into poverty should be as crucial as reducing poverty itself, in order to eliminate poverty. If he had received medical insurance, he could have seen a doctor and avoided becoming disabled. Without such social protection systems or programmes, he had no choice to do so, and might go into poverty because of his disability with his right leg. Also, as long as a country in poverty reduction processes, such social protection schemes should be integrated into poverty reduction strategy as a crucial component. It may also benefit countries’ sustainable growth while reducing risks to have such disadvantaged people to be taken care.

Knowles, J. (2009) Poverty profile and trend in Cambodia : findings from the 2007 Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey (CSES).

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