Launch of the 2024 Regional Human Development in Cambodia

Welcome Remarks by Ms. Alissar Chaker, Resident Representative, UNDP Cambodia

March 7, 2024
  • H.E. Vongsey Vissoth, Permanent Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers

  • H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs

  • H.E. Dr. Huot Pum, Secretary of State of the Office of the Council of Minister

  • H.E. Samheng Boros, Minister Attached to the Prime Minister

  • H.E. Ros Seilava, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Economy and Finance

  • Mr. Christophe Bahuet, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific and Director, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

  • Mr. Joseph Scheuer, the UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia 

  • Ms. Jyotsana Varma, Country Director of Asian Development Bank

  • Dr. Eng Netra, Executive Director, Cambodian Development Resource Institute

  • Excellencies, distinguished speakers, colleagues

  • Ladies and gentlemen

A very good morning to you all! Aroun Soursedei

I am delighted to welcome you to the launch of the 2024 Regional Human Development Report in Cambodia, a country with an inspiring tale of progress. I will come back to this in a while.

The 2024 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, titled ‘Making Our Future: New Directions for Human Development in Asia and the Pacific’, was officially published on 6 November 2023. It recognises the nuanced reality of progress, disparity, and disruption in human development and calls on policymakers for transformative changes that shy away from the temptation of pursuing short-term gains at the expense of human development in the medium-to-long term. It also ponders on innovative directions to boost human development in this new turbulent era.

Background of UNDP’s work on human development

As a brief background, the concept of human development was introduced in the first Human Development Report published by UNDP in 1990. It places “people” at the core of development and economic thinking, acknowledging that development is more than economic prosperity, or a mere income measure. Since then, the Global Human Development Reports have influenced the development debate worldwide and inspired hundreds of regional, national, and sub-national analyses on different issues that influence and precondition human development.

Key message in RHDR

The 2024 Regional Human Development Report recognises that unmet aspirations, heightened human insecurity and a potentially more turbulent future create an urgent need for change. It reviews where we are today as a region and highlights three key points for expanding and accelerating human development for future-fit and resilient growth:

  • First, expand people’s choice through (1) tackling persistent structural exclusion and upholding human dignity; and (2) enhancing human capabilities by increasing access to quality education and health. The story of human development in Asia and the Pacific has been one of long-term progress. Simultaneously, it has also been one of persistent disparity and widespread disruption. Alarmingly, the region is not on track to achieve any of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, but by 2062. 

  • Second, enhance human security by (1) overhauling social protection systems; (2) ensuring resilient health systems; (3) investing in risk-informed development; and (4) bolstering food security. The region is notable for its rapid poverty reduction, having lifted 1.5 billion people out of extreme poverty in a few generations. Yet, millions continue to live in precarious lives amid entrenched inequalities. People face multiple threats to their social, political, and environmental security. Furthermore, new patterns in globalisation amidst intense demographic and technological changes pose additional challenges and uncertainties to the established drivers of economic growth and job creation across the region. 

  • Third, safeguard the interests of future generations through (1) accelerating the Just Energy Transition and striving for net zero; (2) investing in adaptation and disaster-risk reduction; (3) repurposing subsidies that harm the environment, increase environmental externalities and reduce the country’s potential comparative advantage; and (4) managing public finances responsibly avoiding levels of debt that hamper medium-to-long term human development. 

The 2024 Regional Human Development Report provides a wide array of policy recommendations for countries in the region, including Cambodia, for renewing and redefining their human development momentum while steering through the turbulence ahead, notably, to:

  • Mainstream human development, by placing it upfront and across different sectors in the public agenda for enlarging individual, institutional and societal capabilities and agency, tackling persistent exclusion and indignity and putting the rights and needs of current and future generations at the heart of development ambitions and strategies. 

  • Recalibrate growth strategies that evolve with the times to produce not only sustained growth but also growth that is of the right kind, meaning growth that generates quality jobs and reinforces human wellbeing in all its dimensions. The export-led growth and human development paradigms, which originated in the region, remain rich sources of ideas and inspiration, but they require adaptation to maintain their effectiveness. Traditional growth is no longer generating enough jobs, there is a need to unpack what it would take to invest in an ecosystem that generates and supports entrepreneurship and decent jobs.

  • Making change happen by addressing issues of governance and the politics of reform, so that governments can respond to people’s interest and perform better. Future-fit governance systems would need to be anticipatory, adaptive, and agile to respond to future uncertainties and complexities. Moreover, the leap from strategy to action will also require a shift in mindset among leaders and communities, as well as stronger institutions for implementation through nurturing political will, collaborative leadership and civic engagement.

Progress and implication in Cambodia

But what does this mean in the Cambodian context?

Cambodia emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world during the last two decades (1998 to 2019), maintaining an average growth rate of around 7 percent until the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to this economic performance, the country has made notable improvements in key human development dimensions between 1990 and 2021, namely:

  • GNI (gross national income) per capita increasing fourfold from US$1,008 to US$4,079, when adjusted by purchasing power parity (PPP), 

  • Life expectancy increasing by more than 14 years to surpass the age of 70, 

  • Mean years of schooling growing by 2.4 years increasing from 2.7 to 5.1 years on average. 

  • With these improvements in income, health, and education, the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) has increased by 56.9 percent, reaching the medium human development category, and bringing Cambodia to a ranking of 146 among 191 countries in 2023. 

  • This progress has also contributed to reducing its Multidimensional Poverty Index. Cambodia’s MPI value fell from 0.17 in 2014 to 0.07 in 2021/2022, and the incidence of poverty dropped from about 37 percent to 17 percent. This means that multidimensional poverty was halved in 7.5 years.

In recent years, the world as well as Cambodia went through a series of devastating disruptions caused by the lingering effects of COVID-19, wars and global geopolitical uncertainties leading to the sharp increase in the cost of living, and the triple planetary crises (that is, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution that affect vital ecosystems, human security and economic growth prospects). As elsewhere, this has brought disruption to the country’s hard-earned development gains. Cambodia also faces challenges that may pose potential threats to its long-term socio-economic development ambitions. These include insufficient levels of needed high-skilled workforce, high inequality, a large informal economic sector and vulnerability to climate change. As the Kingdom gears up for LDC graduation, it will progressively lose trade preferences and other international measures. Accordingly, it will need to rethink its development model, diversify its sources of growth, and embrace sustainable, resilient and more inclusive modes of growth which are not based on trade-offs between economic competitiveness, social cohesion or natural assets protection.

UNDP will continue supporting the Kingdom’s human development efforts and accelerating its growth ambitions, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to work with our national partners to promote inclusive growth and human development, address the challenges of climate change and enhance governance and civic engagement as enablers and accelerators of socioeconomic development.

I wish you all, distinguished speakers, panelists, presenters, and participants fruitful discussions and deliberations, hoping that the outcomes of this dialogue will eventually enrich the ongoing reflection, policy decisions and public investments at the national and subnational levels for accelerating Human Development in Cambodia and equipping the country to navigate turbulent times.

Orkun Chroeun!