New bridge improves links, livelihoods for Cambodian villages

26-year-old So Phorn in Koh Kong Province, south-western Cambodia.
26-year-old So Phorn in Koh Kong Province, south-western Cambodia.

When 26-year-old So Phorn gave birth to her first child three years ago it took her two strenuous hours on a motorbike, a ferry and a rickshaw to get to the nearest health centre in the neighbouring commune of Beoung Preav, in south-western Cambodia.

Following completion six months ago of a joint international project that built a concrete bridge crossing the 40-metre wide Kampong Sdam River, So Phorn now has a 30-minute trip to deliver her second child at the same hospital.

The new bridge—a partnership between the two local governments, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union—is directly improving the lives of 10,000 residents of the Chroy Svay and Boeung Preav communes, separated by the river.

Highlights

  • The Inter-Commune Cooperation project is working to strengthen local governance in Cambodia and better serve rural communities.
  • The ICC grants US$1.8 million each year to fund projects that cross commune boundaries and has implemented over 260 projects since 2006.
  • ICC projects have built roads, bridges and schools in remote communities and respond to women's needs and environmental issues.

“It used to be very difficult without a bridge,” said Neng Chhun, a 31-year-old father of six who runs a home-based grocery store in Chroy Svay and regularly crosses the river to the neighbouring village where he replenishes his stock.

Chhun and other residents recalled that a preceding bridge had fallen into a state of disrepair and was so unstable that few locals would take the risk of mounting the rickety structure even when it was urgent that they reach the other side.

Two boats joined together by a wooden platform acted as the quickest alternative for motorcyclists and pedestrians. The ferry charged a one-way fee equivalent to US$0.12, a price out of reach of many in a country where the poverty line is just about US$0.60 a day.

“A new bridge was the highest demand,” said Hay Sin, Chroy Svay’s commune chief, who initially said there was nothing he could do about the problem due to the limited budget available through his office.

In 2010, Hay Sin invited his counterpart in the neighbouring commune to pool resources and draw up a joint proposal to win funds from the UNDP/EU Inter-Commune Cooperation, an agency functioning in 12 provinces to ensure development projects of highest benefit to residents.

“We can work together to bring benefits for all the people,” said Sin after the communes received US$40,000 to build the bridge. “As commune council leaders, we should not think only about our own communities.”